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Watford, Coliseum (02 Dec 1996)

Photo: Hamish Brown (1996)


December 14 1996

Watford Colosseum

"... Bestriding the stage like housewife colossi, the It Girls glare down, 20ft tall and glossily cardboard. Pretty in an archaic sort of way, but as shallow as a Brookside sub-plot. They are Britpop in gargantuan monochrome. Are Sleeper (the archetypal in-at-Number-16-with-a-wet-blanket Britpop band, remember) merely cardboard cut-out indie pop? Do they really amount to nothing more than a pretty face, an ooh-la-la-stomp-missus drumbeat and three blokes who were born out of focus?

But before these questions are answered, Mansun have stormed onstage in pincer formation, waved their guitars around their heads, wailed like distressed chickens and left Watford dribbling down its rugby shirt in awe. Call this lot two-dimensional and they'd probably show you the scars from where they tore these blistered pop tunes from their very souls. For here we find Radiohead having barbed wire shoved up their arse on 'Wide Open Space', tales of dodgy goings-on in the clergy in 'Stripper Vicar' and guitars so hypercharged they could be launched against Iraq tomorrow.

Then, from between the plywood legs of the It Girls skips Louise to be worshipped by a baying New Town crowd who know the traumas of a pebble-dashed driveway only too well. The fact that the Sleeperblokes seem to be breeding (there's now a Keyboardbloke and a Rhythmguitarbloke, both equally unrecognisable to their own mothers) goes unnoticed amid the torrent of pop hits suddenly gushing from the speakers. And yes! 'Delicious', 'Swallow' and the rumbling bass grenade of 'Sale Of The Century' are all consummate pop ditties oozing suspicious fluids from their nethers and swaggering around Blur's deserted fairground, pissed on a half of snakebite.

Then things start to go terribly awry: they start to sound like Sleeper. Or, at least, the underachieving cartoon Sleeper of legend, as portrayed in a million hatchet album reviews. You want stompy-pop-by-numbers, chirpiness optional? Then meet 'Factor 41' and its five identical twins whose names (and, indeed, choruses) slip your mind within two minutes.

Still, masterful streaks through 'What Do I Do Now?' and 'Vegas' steer proceedings back towards somewhere quite marvellous, and the It Girls have their answer. Yes, Sleeper are a 2-D pop band, digitally tagged by the Chart Police so that they can never step outside of their allotted musical boundaries. They're destined to soundtrack a billion fumbled snogs at a zillion student discos for eternity. They're cheap, cheerful, occasionally magnificent but consistently anonymous pop made flesh. We've got the Spice Girls now, right? What's the point?"

Mark Beaumont