The Sleeper Conspiracy
They're a band from the 90s. Unlike most bands, there are only five possible ways to react to their existence:
1. You used to be in Sleeper and, as such, you view them either with the same rose-tinted bleary eyes with which you'd view an old flame with whom it was just not to be, or you find yourself shirking in cold sweats at the mere thought of Sleeper like you would whilst recalling a particularly dehumanising job which is now acting as the standard by which the rest of your life is judged. Things are either much better than Sleeper or much worse than Sleeper.
2. You dismiss Sleeper as Britpop also-rans. Maybe Sleeper had a few good songs but were nothing special. Or perhaps Sleeper are representative of a style of music which screams of excess and wilful idiocy and, as such, Sleeper deserve the relative obscurity in which they exist these days.
3. You really liked Sleeper and, truth be told, you still really like Sleeper. In fact, you have a theory that everyone of a certain age has “their” Britpop band who they are convinced should have been as big as – nay, bigger than – Oasis. You are convinced that Sleeper have more talent in their collective pisspot than Oasis displayed over the course of their entire career.
4. You have never heard of Sleeper.
5. You vaguely remember Sleeper and, were you to today hear a Sleeper song, you might not necessarily recognise it as a Sleeper song, but, all the same, you might find yourself remembering the song itself or otherwise appreciating it for whatever reason. Sleeper for you are by no means bad, but they're nothing special.
Well, friends, I would have been number five. I wanted to be number five. But the world won't let me. The universe won't let me. In fact, I am almost entirely convinced that there are cosmic forces at play preventing me from ever giving Sleeper the time of day. Put simply, I am not allowed to listen to Sleeper.
Don't believe me? Let us weigh up the evidence.
I first came across Sleeper on this compilation album:
This compilation is, of course, awesome. It involves a giddily euphoric trio of songs in the form of Cast's “Beat Mama”, Blur's “Chemical World” and Supergrass's “Going Out”. It opens with Space's “The Female Of The Species” and, in featuring Pulp's “My Legendary Girlfriend” (as opposed to, say, “Common People”), it can hardly be labelled as “predictable”. Finally, in that halfway through the track listing you'll stumble across Grandaddy's “Summer Here Kids”, instantly there's scope to market this collection as a sort of aural prozac capable of lifting the spirits of even the most curmudgeonly of moping sorts. I'd go as far as to say, in fact, that it's simply not possible to harbour a deep admiration for guitar-based music and feel unhappy whilst listening to Suburban Hymns. It even features Monaco's “What Do You Want From Me”!
Anyway, between twelve and twenty-four months ago, I again came across Suburban Hymns whilst sorting through my room. Or, maybe my brother picked up a copy for nostalgia's sake. Eitherway, I found myself listening again after abstaining for eight years or so. And guess what? It still rocked. However, whilst as a listening experience I was expecting a flat yet rollicking deep soak in warm and familiar waters, instead I found myself having something of a revelation.
I once read – or, I was once told – of Brian Wilson's experiences of first hearing “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. He was driving when it came on the radio. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound had a devastating, debilitating effect on him. It engulfed him with almost unbearable happiness to the point that he had to pull over until the song finished.
A song so good that Mr. Wilson had to either give it his complete and unadulterated attention or risk death. Any lover of music will surely be able to relate. Such experiences are rare and, whilst mine with Sleeper's “Nice Guy Eddie” wasn't quite as life-affirming as Mr. Wilson's, still. I mean, have you heard this song?
My experience was basically one of wondering as to why that song hadn't stuck with me from my initial listening to Suburban Hymns. It's so good.
Now, I'm not going to pretend for one second that instantly a need to hear more Sleeper was induced. Rather, I found myself listening to “Nice Guy Eddie” with a frequency only reserved for those very special of songs. Those which break through my outer layer of “appreciating the pretty sounds” into my inner core of, for want of a better word, “feeling it, man”.
Be that as it may, a – shall we say – academic interest in their 1996 album “The It Girl” was created. “Nice Guy Eddie” was a single released from “The It Girl”. Music fan logic dictates that if said album contains at least one song even half as good as “Nice Guy Eddie”, then said album will almost definitely be worth owning. Then I remembered having seen said album on more than one occasion in the music sections of various charity shops, everywhere. So! It'll simply be a case of me snapping it up next time I come across it! Enlightenment will thus inevitably ensue. And, if not, well. For the three pounds or so it will set me back, well – who's complaining? Simple.
Would that it were. Would that it were. Before long it would become apparent that fate simply would not have me hearing Sleeper's “The It Girl”.
Cex in Liverpool circa The Matthew Street Festival 2009 – we pop in to kill time between distressingly mediocre bands. Their downstairs music section is woefully cluttered – rock mixes with pop mixes with Jazz and what have you. Alphabetised? In your dreams. Nonetheless, I find it – “The It Girl” by Sleeper. For a pound! Fantastic. Mission accomplished.
But did I mention that this is the day of The Matthew Street Festival? The place is rammed with people who're drinking in excess – this being the one day of the year that you're allowed to drink legally on the street in broad daylight without being arrested all are slugging cheap lager from grubby plastic bags. One particularly inebriated woman is holding up the whole Cex queue through attempting to flog a small black box to the perplexed sales assistant who has about as much idea as to the exact function of this box as the woman dressed in an egg-stained black tracksuit who's trying to sell it – battered box covered in foreign writing and all. He can't give her anything for it. He doesn't even know what it is! But she's not having that. She's the sort of person for whom every word that leaves her mouth escapes through a scowl to be delivered in a snarling biting tone with an accompanying violent jab of the finger. When even regular conversations sound like an altercation, on such occasions as this – when she's being denied something she wants – she sounds livid; murderous even.
This queue's going nowhere fast and I'm right at the back. Even if she were to suddenly give up on her designs of selling her mysterious, probably stolen black box, there would still be about fifteen people to be served before me. And, what's more, there's some chirpy ska-rap outfit taking to the stage in a few moments! Mission abandoned, I'll buy it another time. Hastily, I leave the shop.
Now, at this early juncture my alarm bells are in no way ringing. After all, it was under my own accord that I abandoned my designs to make my purchase. And when I return a few days later, when it's a bit quieter, with every intention of finishing the job I'd started the other day – only to find that it's gone, someone else has bought it – well, why not? Who wouldn't want to own “The It Girl” by Sleeper?
This is some months later and it's in the Crosby branch of Oxfam. Slightly more expensive than last time – at £2.99 – but there's nobody else in the stop, cash in my pocket, and absolutely nothing standing between me and the till. Hassle free I this time succeed in purchasing my second hand copy of “The It Girl” by Sleeper.
But then I get home, excitedly open the case and find – “The Very Best Of Sister Sledge”. They'd put the wrong disc in the box. An easy mistake to make – the disc harboured exactly the same shade of red as the box. A few days later I return to the store and point out their error. They make the sort of noise which says “well, that explains it, then”. It seems that a copy of “The Very Best Of Sister Sledge” had recently been returned by a disgruntled individual complaining that they'd found the wrong disc within. Only, try as they might, they can't find the right disc for my box. “The It Girl” is nowhere to be found.
They thus urge me to pick out something else in store to the value of £2.99. They have another Sleeper album. Fitting, I think.
But by the time I get home, I haven't got the heart to listen to it. Still haven't. It's just sitting there. Mocking me.
Again, it's only in retrospect that I'll view these events with anything approaching suspicion. No. Things only start to get mysterious after Attempt Three.
This is the weird one. The album this time is found in a charity shop in Clitheroe. Exactly which one has now escaped me, even though we're only talking a month or two ago. I end up with a recycled bag containing a collection of George Gershwin numbers, a record full of German drinking songs (why not?) and, hey hey, a pristine copy of “The It Girl” by Sleeper. Having bought it I check to see if they've put the right disc in the box – I'm not falling for that one again – and, yep, they have. Then I check the disc for scratches. It would be just my luck were I to get home to find the disc to be unplayable. But, like I say, pristine. I'm also endeared to find the receipt for the original owner's initial purpose inserted into the sleeve. He or she had bought it from a Virgin Megastore in 1997, seemingly as part of a five-for-fifty-pound deal. (Five-for-fifty-pound! How things have changed). You see, then, that this particular copy of “The It Girl” wasn't just another copy of “The It Girl”. It's a historcal artifact.
But then the weirdest thing happens. My bag vanishes. It just vanishes. Nowhere to be found.
At first I suspect that I might have left it in the delightful cheese deli where we lunched that afternoon. But no – I remembered having demonstrated the German drinking record upon getting back to my dad's in Bolton – where I was, at that point, staying.
So obviously I left it there, right? Only, it's nowhere to be found. Of course it isn't. Nor is it in the last possible place where it could be – in the back of my girlfriend's car. It's just gone. It's vanished. Without a trace.
This was, remember, the third time I had attempted to purchase “The It Girl” by Sleeper. I am, therefore, inclined to at this point feel suspicious and more than a little paranoid. It is at this juncture that I'm able to conclude that there are certain forces at play preventing me from ever hearing this album.
Of course, the woman in that Liverpool branch of Cex had been instructed to make so much of a fuss that I'd abandon my designs on buying the CD.
Of course, the staff at the Crosby branch of Oxfam had “accidentally” placed the wrong CD in the box before “accidentally” misplacing it entirely.
And, of course, my bag had “just gone missing”. Of course it was “just one of those things”.
And, of course I could order the album from Amazon for a penny (plus p+p) – but that's exactly what they want me to do. And, besides, I just know that my package would get “lost in the mail”, or that there'd suddenly be a postal strike or something. The imminent snow storms? Let's just say that I'm dismissing them as far too convenient.
As it stands, then, I'm convinced that the world simply does not want me to hear this album.
THINGS WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN WHEN FINALLY I GET ROUND TO HEARING “THE IT GIRL” BY SLEEPER:
1. The skies will open and fire and brimstone will rain down upon the unrepentant sinners whilst the devout, the humble and the meek will ascend from the hell which hath erupted on earth.
3. Localised lightning strike to the centre of my chest.
4. New favourite band.
5. Supremely underwhelmed, but still enamoured with “Nice Guy Eddie”.
7. Robot/zombie uprising.
8. Wonder - as to what all the fuss was about.
9. Disillusioning reunion tour.
10. Resonance cascade.
But it's never going to happen, is it? The world won't have it.