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Second only to ELASTICA in terms of cult credibility among the female-led Britpop acts, SLEEPER caught the attention of the music press and media outlets through sultry singer/guitarist Louise Wener. She indeed caused controversy from the off with an attack on the sacred cow that was feminism. If she brought the wrath of the more radical female population, then she no doubt scored a few brownie points with the other half; indie lads increasingly besotted by her saucer-eyed cuteness as well as her outspoken personality on the likes of hits `Delicious’, `Inbetweener’ and `Sale Of The Century’.
Born in Gants Hill, London (but raised in Ilford, Essex), daughter of a civil servant and a dental technician, Louise Wener awoke her inner creativity by forming SLEEPER, in 1993, with her then-boyfriend (co-scribe and guitarist) Jon Stewart. Having met as political philosophy students at Manchester University six years previously, a move to Camden in London and a placement of a canny ad in Melody Maker (stating inspirations: PIXIES to The Partridge Family), netted the rhythm section of Diid Osman (bass) – ex-CANDYLAND – and Andy Maclure (drums). Unhappy when finding out that the Surrender Dorothy moniker had been half-inched by other Wizard Of Oz disciples, the word “Sleeper” caught their imagination after watching a Woody Allen film; its ambiguous meaning also brought a certain intrigue and mystery to the switch-over. The next important stage was to perform live and find a decent record label. Whether A&R geezers were just in awe of the stunning Louise or they were simply hypnotised by the songs, Indolent Records (a subsidiary of RCA/BMG) won a bidding war of sorts.
The `Alice’ EP (led out by `Alice In Veins’) was first off the production line in their array of singles, although it be through maxi-45s, `Swallow’ and `Delicious’, that SLEEPER roused Britpop listeners from their grunge-rock slumber; Wener’s sexual frankness further endeared her to the more hormonal element of her audience. The singer had already acquired a burgeoning reputation for her lippy diatribes by the time the `Inbetweener’ single cracked the Top 20 in the early hours of ’95, and the re-awakened interest in all things Wener ensured the debut album, SMART {*7}, a Top 5 placing. Released a month prior to the disputatious and eponymous ELASTICA set, Wener and Co were not so much WIRE and STRANGLERS allies, but that of BLUR – whom they supported on their Parklife tour – and BLONDIE. Tongue-in-cheeky in the Mary Whitehouse-baiting `Lady Love Your Countryside’, the challenging and spiky guitar outfit scratched out the odd ear-catching tune, notably the dreamy bit-noisy/part-pop rush of hit `Vegas’ (flipped with the PRETENDERS’ `Hymn To Her’) and `Poor Flying Man’.
Later that year, SLEEPER secured a second Top 20 hit with the lightweight indie-pop of `What Do I Do Now?’. It was followed by `Sale Of The Century’ (B-side: a “Trainspotting” re-vamp of BLONDIE’s `Atomic’), their first Top 10 single, though by no means their best. Wener’s profile was at an all-time high, her forthright views offending and delighting in equal measure; there was no middle ground with this lass, you either admired her or wished she would keep stumm (the aptly-named SLEEPER also proved that work and pleasure were actually compatible after all). Predictably, then, the parent Stephen Street-produced Top 5 album, THE IT GIRL (1996) {*7}, met with decidedly mixed reviews, though it converted buoyant youngsters to Louise’s languid directives, such as subsequent hits, `Nice Guy Eddie’ and the BLONDIE-esque `Statuesque’ – surely if ELASTICA were called to task on the likes of `Connection’ and `Waking Up’, then SLEEPER were cutting it fine for a song that sounded very `Presence Dear’.
As Osman moved aside for Chris Giammalvo (of MADDER ROSE), middling hit `She’s A Good Girl’ previewed third consecutive Top 10 set, PLEASED TO MEET YOU (1997) {*5}. A record that only produced universal indifference, both critically and commercially, the PRETENDERS-like `Romeo Me’ was the group’s final Top 40 hit, whilst Dan Kaufmann was enlisted as a temporary bassist.
Being ignored was probably one thing that sex symbol Wener never counted on, although most thought it doubtful such a feisty babe would bow out without a fight, or at least a controversial word or two. By March 1998, a saddened Louise and new beau Andy Maclure (whom she later married) exited stage-left; she became a novelist, Andy subsequently joined the backing band of SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR and Melanie C.
Inevitably, the lure of the coin, or simply missing the magic and prestige of playing to a live audience, Louise, Jon and Andy re-awoke SLEEPER in 2017; and enlisted bassist Kieron Pepper. Produced by seasoned Midas touch maestro, Stephen Street, 2019’s return to the Top 20, THE MODERN AGE {*7}, was a worthy attempt at clawing back the lost two decades; and a bit. Opening salvo, the riff-tastic `Paradise Waiting’, was a particular but worthy drift back into nostalgic Britpop coda, whilst the engaging title track, plus `Car Into The Sea’ and the yearning `Big Black Sun’, re-established author Wener and Co as value among today’s indie-pop haut monde.
© MC Strong 1996-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2016-Jun2019

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