This Time Tomorrow is both old and new, described by the band as a ‘lost album’. The foundations were forged in the years after they officially split and could have been the record to follow 1997 album Pleased to Meet You. This collection of nascent tracks had gathered digital dust for over 20 years but, in the wake of a return to live shows and the release of new material on The Modern Age in 2019, they decided to resurrect them. So, like performing surgery with cutting edge lasers and cow gum, they had to coax old files from museum-ready hard drives and breathe new life into them.
The album bristles with the kind of catchy tunes that you would expect from Sleeper as well as more reflective songs and even a full-on Big Band track. The gently pulsing opener ‘Tell Me Where You’re Going’ builds to a chorus that would inspire a thousand glitter balls to rotate and ‘New Year’s Kiss’ gives us a wintery horizon filled with optimistic reflection, like E17 and Kirsty MacColl having a playdate. ‘Let’s Start A Fire’ has a joyous tongue-in-cheek swagger replete with the twang of slide guitar and honey of lush harmonies, and its swagger compliments the glorious bravado of ‘Cab Song’ which bubbles along on a brass-driven cloud of tom toms, swinging hips that must surely be dressed by Edith Head. The story-song is alive and well on ‘Poor Henry’ and the heartbreak of a bride-to-be is every bit as evocative as the slice of suburban life in 1995’s ‘Inbetweener’. ‘We Should Be Together and ‘Will There’s A Way’ are flawless pop exemplars and ‘Hard Hat’ brings the hermetically sealed ache of having no traction and feeling untethered from reality: “I just lose, just lose myself. I try to find my compass, but it’s gone, gonna’ put my hard hat on”. As well as the core Sleeper members, Louise Wener (vocals, guitar), Andy Maclure (drums, keyboards, bass, guitar) and Jon Stewart (guitar) there are some notable guests including the late George Michael, who recorded the low-key backing vocals on ‘We Are Cinderella’ (parts of the album were originally recorded in his Highgate studio) and, keeping it in the family, daughter Iris singing backing vocals on ‘New Year’s Kiss’.
I always felt that Sleeper got a raw deal out of the nineties, gathered up in the collective noun of Britpop and subject to the sexism still prevalent towards ‘female-fronted’ bands (a phrase that would only be marginally less laughable if you ever saw ‘male-fronted band’ written anywhere). Being labelled as ‘opinionated’, ‘difficult’ or ‘gobby’ when your male counterparts are being lauded as wise, witty and wry must have been wearing and, in many ways, you can understand why Louise Wener went on to be a writer, because at least you have control over what you write rather than what’s written about you. But journalistic cliches of sexism, splitting-up and sleeperblokes aside there are few artists that can claim such a consistent hit rate of great tunes. If you think you can write a catchy pop song then imagine how to concoct a string of hits that include ‘What Do I Do Now’, ‘Inbetweener’, ‘Delicious’, ‘Sale of the Century’, ‘What Do I Get’, ‘Statuesque’, ‘Look At You Now’ and ‘Vegas’.
This Time Tomorrow is packed with more gems than a Swarovski catalogue and whereas many bands plunder their archive to release outtakes or alternate versions in order to part the completist fan with their cash but Sleeper have taken ashes and built a phoenix. The tracks sound completely fresh and do not feel like an echo of the past but an album that can and should have a life way beyond its vintage roots. These songs, alongside their 2019 catalogue, demonstrate that Sleeper easily transcend the pigeonhole of ‘legacy act’. There’s something resonant and perfect about a line from ‘We Are Cinderella’: “We swim around in the shallows. We gave up making it rich. Our minds are less than elastic. We know exactly where we don’t fit”.
You can stream This Time Tomorrow in full and also buy the CD, Vinyl and download along with a selection of merch through Sleeper’s own shop here
Review by Paul F Cook