When Sleeper bowed out in 1998, it was with huge amount of integrity and credibility. Feeling the creative well had dried up, and not willing to flog a dead horse, they said an emotional farewell at Brixton Academy.
However, with the kids reaching their teens, and the loss of someone close to front-woman Louise Wener, the itch to take risks came to the fore. Calling in their unofficial member Stephen Street to helm the studio once more, they set off to Metway Studios. Would they roll a 6?
Despite fan affection for their third album ‘Pleased To Meet You’, their ability to be musically and lyrically incisive as they were on the classics ‘The IT Girl’ and ‘Smart’ was fading. ‘The Modern Age’ however, sees Wener rediscover her razor sharp observations. ‘Look At You Now’, neatly signifies the times and their lack of reason “I hear your anger and howls of hate / With so little reason wit so little faith”.
Musically, there is much to cling to for long-time fans. Jon Stewart has found his inner Graham Coxon on opener ‘Paradise Waiting’ and ‘Cellophane’ and, on ‘Blue Like You’, there is an element of Teenage Fanclub glorious rumbling away. It’s the introduction of synths and psyche at various points which keeps everything fresh. The production on ‘Look At You Now’ adds a devilment to this sexy Pixies-esque anthem.
The real progress though, is made on ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and title track ‘The Modern Age’. The former, adopts the swirling spirit of Reverend and The Makers ‘Silence Is Talking’. As the cheery haziness unfurls, a new Sleeper is born. A sexier, wiser and more psychedelic Sleeper!
On the title track, Wener takes her song writing to the next level. She always had Weller and Davies’ ability to create uniquely British characters. This is on display yet again but, here, the emotion is ramped up to the max. Seemingly about the close friend she lost, an aching beauty unfolds as our fleeting existence materialises. The inner torment this must’ve taken to convey so elegantly and, in such a happy sounding song is reminder of music’s power. Listen to this song a 100 times, you’ll feel something different every time.
At every turn on ‘The Modern Age’, Sleeper have added something to their armoury. The guitars are beefier, the synths crisp and the psyche new. For all the charm they carried in the 90s, they are no-one’s understudy’s anymore. This feels like the record they were born to make.