On the Timeless Appeal of Sleeper
I’ve been buying pre-recorded cassette albums from charity shops for 50p a go. And they’re good. They’re OK. Maybe one in ten is fucked in ways the eye can’t detect, but most of them sound just fine. The great thing about cassettes was that you got the best results from them by doing the opposite of what the instructions told you. The famous Dolby™ noise reduction system was a case in point. People with too much time on their hands didn’t like cassettes because a scarcely audible hiss was generated along with whatever you were supposed to be hearing. Dolby™ came along to sort this out. And it worked. You couldn’t hear the hiss any more. Unfortunately, you couldn’t hear the hi-hat either. Or most of the stuff that accounts for the enduring popularity of the electric guitar. Glockenspiels were a no-no. You were supposed to adjust your Dolby™ control according to whether the tape you were listening to had been recorded with Dolby™ or not. But if you did the opposite and played a Dolbified tape back without Dolby™ it sounded amazing. Bright as a Salvation Army button. Put it this way, pal: you could hear the fuckin hi-hat, know what I mean? You could hear the hiss properly for the first time as well, reassuring you that you were getting your money’s worth across the entire audible spectrum.
But I’m not here to talk about cassettes. Sleeper’s 1996 album, The It Girl, which I happen to own on a cassette whose sticker swears blind that somebody originally paid £8.99 for it – can you imagine? Nine quid for a tape, in 1996? The British phonographic industry deserves a grudging high-five for its tenacity – is both good and OK. What Do I Do Now?, Sale of the Century and Statuesque, at least, are exuberant things thrown together by a songwriter who is well aware that it’s now or never. And she gives it a pretty good shot. It’s at least as good as Ladyhawke. In fact, Ladyhawke, though her music is considerably more appealing to my ancient ears than the nineties Britplod of Sleeper, has nothing to say about the commonplace confusions of the human heart that’s even a millionth as affecting as What Do I Do Now? I disliked Sleeper at the time. Maybe twelve years hence I’ll be sitting here eulogising Glasvegas – fuck, yeah, that so poignantly unintentional caricature of the sentimental Jock. Fuck, yeah. There are not words to express how much I’d like to still be sitting here in twelve years time. Not at that price, though.