SLEEPER - THE MODERN AGE
"I will give thee thanks in the great congregation; I will praise thee among much people." (Psalm 35:18, King James Version)
Share the good news.
Sleeper are risen.
They have shaken off the shackles of creative death and have risen, Lazarus like, from the tomb. They have returned.
They bring good tidings of great joy.
Stood alone at Star Shaped in Glasgow back in 2017 I had thrilled to the wonky delights of Salad, marvelled at the pop wonders of My Life Story, enjoyed the bloke and roll delights of Dodgy, felt my jaw drop at the sonic assault of Space and felt my heart skip-skip-skip several beats as the mighty Bluetones did the do that only they do.
A good day.
Nothing quite matched the feeling that engulfed me as Sleeper took to the stage. Not just that day.
Here were a band I had loved like few others and who I had resigned myself to being nothing more than a memory, nostalgia, a sepia tinted photograph in my minds eye...now alive and in glorious technicolor again.
They were a riot.
More hit singles than the entire "Now..." back catalogue combined.
The sharpest of lyrics.
The most delicious of riffs and hooks.
More than that there was a palpable energy in the venue...you could feel the love of the crowd for the band and you could touch the joy.
It was perfect.
That could have been it.
A few live shows just for old times sake.
All of the hard work from the good people at Star Shaped had paid off...they had a dream, a dream that one day the people who really cared about the music of the nineties could be rewarded with the return of one of the finest bands of the era. I can only imagine what it took to make that dream a reality...I'm glad they did whatever they had to do.
You should be too.
One last moment in the sun.
Except it wasn't one last moment in the sun.
It wasn't a fond farewell.
It was a toe in the water.
It was...the start of something.
Now that something has a physical form.
A new album.
"The Modern Age".
Ten new songs.
Ten songs after 22 years of no songs.
Dear God don't let this be a dream.
It's not a dream.
"She's like a Goddess, they call her Caesar." coos Wener on the opening track "Paradise Waiting" and instantly you are transported back to the future. This doesn't sound like a band who are tied to the nineties; this is the sound of a band reborn, resurrected, restored and revitalised. The moment that you hear Louise sing "We are birds of para-dise waiting" will leave you breathless.
The two singles from the album "Look at you Now" and "The Sun Also Rises" serve to confirm the notion that Sleeper have refused, wilfully, to look to their past or revisit former glories. They are defiantly modern slices of retro chic with melodies so memorable it is difficult to accept that they are not former classics but are instead...future classics. Just you wait.
As a successful novelist as well as one of the best lyricists of the nineties it shouldn't come as any surprise to discover that "The Modern Age" is an album that is littered with brilliantly observed, poetic, hilarious, poignant, tender, romantic and beautiful lines. "Dig", a song that is spikier and more angular than a really spikey and angular thing contains one of my favourite lines..."Yes, we
have no regrets...we only have debts...and desti-nations". Told you. Oh it also nods to R. Dean Taylor's classic "Ghost in my House" which, automatically, elevates this to the status of genius.
After such a long time away it would have been totally fine if Sleeper had managed to drag out two or three moments of loveliness and then filled the album with, well, filler. Nobody would have minded...not really. But something very peculiar happens when you reach the title track "The Modern Age". You realise that across the opening four tracks you haven't heard a single song that wasn't the equal of anything you already loved and that, up to this point, we have been swimming in all killer, no filler, territory. That this album is, already, the best Sleeper have ever made. That's not the really strange thing though...the really strange thing is that "The Modern Age" is also the single best song they have ever recorded.
I'll repeat that.
"The Modern Age" is the single best song Sleeper have ever recorded.
I'm not joking.
You know that thing when you get hot in bed at night and so you flip the pillow over because its lovely and cool?
"The Modern Age" is cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Is Louise singing "Solitude is my scene" or "Solitude is my sin" on "Cellophane"? Either one works for me.
I like being alone.
Which is good news because other people like me being alone too.
Remember a minute ago when I started banging on about how incredible "The Modern Age" was? I think I might have been wrong.
Don't get me wrong...it really is great.
But, as I write this, I am listening to "Car into the Sea" and I'm thinking that this might be better than I said "The Modern Age" was.
This is awkward.
Can two songs be the single best song?
Listening to this you are struck by something...this isn't just about the quality of the songs or the lyrics or the melodies or the whatevers...this is about everything falling into place at the same time.
Everything is right.
Just listen to "Blue Like You" which is, to be crude about things, an absolute banger. I can already hear crowds roaring it back at the band. "I wish that I was someone different...", we know Louise, we know because we have all felt that way too. Some of us still do.
Or wait until you hear "More Than I Do" which, and I am really not exaggerating this time, is the finest lyric that Wener has ever written. It's brutal, honest, funny, true and achingly sad. I cried...I can't say when or why just now but I will at some point.
Things come to an end with "Big Black Sun" which gives us a vocal from Louise that is rich, warm, fragile, tender...the finest moment of her career? If you can listen to this once without your heart breaking and then building itself back together then you are either dead or the sort of person who hasn't ever been hurt, caused hurt, loved or lost love. It is so beautiful. So beautiful. Beautiful.
I have been telling people for a long while that "The Modern Age" was going to be the album of the year...anyone who had heard the two singles knew where I was coming from but I genuinely meant it. Those magnificent live shows, the sense of celebration, the cobwebs being cleared from creative
attics, Stephen Street in the producers seat...it all pointed in one direction. Now I have actually heard the whole album and I am finally able to say that I was right...album of the year.
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