Almost thirty years after “Britpop” was a thing, the dust has yet to settle on the pop culture explosion that it represented. The monster that is Oasis makes it impossible to look back on the period with any sort of clarity…maybe even with any kind of love…because their trad rockin’ beats are seen, by many, to be the start and end of the whole thing. When I say “many” I mean either ageing football casuals, middle-class boys who weren’t quite tough enough to have been football casuals and who use a parka and a Liam haircut to try and convince people they were, and the girls who sat looking with doe eyes at the first lot at the sixth form end of term disco. What that means is that any discussion of the period ends up being a debate about whether “Live Forever” or “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is the greatest song ever written…the answer is no, to both.
I have just finished a book on the era which, in large part, is an attempt to shift that narrative and to put the focus on the bands who weren’t just a tired rehash of “Rubber Soul” and who really were the sort of art school boppers that kids like me were obsessed with at that point. Trust me, very few of us were all that interested in Oasis. They poisoned the water.
Most of the focus for the nostalgia/revivalist crowd in 2022 will be on Liam Gallagher playing at Knebworth. I’m sure everyone will have a jolly old time. Liam seems like a very sweet man these days. But how many times can you replay the same moment and still find anything of value in it? We’ve had documentaries, concert films, books, magazines, TV shows…endlessly repeating the same talking points about Knebworth. The biggest. The BIGGEST. The BIGGEREST. It was really fucking big. MASSIVE. Fine. Enjoy it. Get all coked up good and proper, give your Wallabies a good dusting and hopefully get home in time to relieve the babysitter.
But for the rest of us, for the grotesquely lonely of the nineties, there is something a little more careful, a little more precious, a little more literate, a little more fun, looming in 2022…Sleeper are heading back on the road to play “The IT Girl” in full.
“AHA! What about your sneering “nostalgia/revival” snark a minute ago you massive fucking hypocrite?” I hear you bray.
You got me.
Bang to rights.
It’s a fair cop.
Except…it’s not really.
In the years since “The IT Girl” was released in 1996, the various parts and hearts of Sleeper have moved on, moved away, lived a little, loved a lot, forged new lives…books, families, academia. And then, when they did return for some shows in 2017 it wasn’t an attempt to jump on the nostalgia gravy train. For Sleeper it was a warm up, a dress rehearsal, a test…did they still love it, could they still do it? They did and they could. And then they went away and wrote a whole new album. Not just that, they wrote a whole new album that was really good and then followed it up with another album of new material forged out of old ideas and half forgotten dreams of songs. It was really good too.
Sleeper then are a going concern.
More than that the new music didn’t sound like a tired reheating of the old music. It was, genuinely, new music. Sometimes new music is just the same music with a new title…
“The IT Girl” is one of the best albums of the Britpop era. Had the musical landscape not been gasping for breath under the weight of Oasis and the other trad rockers it might have found a bigger and even more appreciative audience…which is saying something given that it sold some 300,000 copies. It includes some of the defining singles of the period, “Sale of the Century”, the gorgeous “What Do I Do Now?”, “Statuesque” and “Nice Guy Eddie”, all of which made the top twenty. But it isn’t the singles that make it great, it’s greatness lies in that vocal from Louise on “Shrink Wrapped”, it lies in the furious thrash and finger popping hip cat thrills of “Feeling Peaky”, the Pixies-esque “Lie Detector”, the maudlin swoop of “Click…Off…Gone” and the dizzy, giddy, charms of “Dress Like Your Mother”.
It’s all killer.
I won’t be in the field where Robbie Williams thrilled the biggest audience ever seen at Knebworth next year, instead I’ll be hitting the road to hear one of the best British bands of the nineties playing one of the greatest albums by a British band ever.
Friday 22nd April - Leeds O2 Academy
Saturday 23rd April - Glasgow SWG3
Thursday 28th April - Bristol O2 Academy
Friday 29th April - Coventry HMV Empire
Saturday 30th April - Manchester Albert Hall
Sunday 1st May - Newcastle Boilershop
Friday 6th May - London Roundhouse
Saturday 7th May - Cambridge Junction