Infectious number to kick off with
by Steve Davy
IT seems these days a pop stars are not pop stars unless they have opinions to share with the world on just about every subject, and Louise Wener hasn't needed asking twice to make controversial remarks: she has earned herself a reputation in Britain for her outspoken views on such topics as feminism and racism.
But if we're here to talk about Wener's mouth, it is only in the context of her role as singer and front-gal for Sleeper, and to boot the band's debut album Smart.
And a very patchy beast it is indeed. As far as opening tracks go, Inbetweener couldn't be much better - a breathtakingly infectious slice-of-life song complete with a chorus ('he's not a prince, he's not a king, she's not a work of art or anything') that will have you singing along even if you really hate it.
But after this butterfly fish, many of the following creatures' nostrils barely clear the surface of the indie guitar swamp.
Influences splash past in the meantime: The Smiths, the Stone Roses, the Pixies, and Wener's vocals even have a go at Bjork in her Sugarcubes days on Delicious (surely inspired by the Icelanders' own Delicious Demon ), which got the band the independent number one single spot last year.
A couple of more subdued numbers, Hunch and Amuse, give the album a soft centre, but if there's one other song on Smart to come close to Inbetweener for sheer catchiness it must be Bedhead (which includes the brilliant line, 'Made a note to leave you alone, I'm too drunk to read aren't I') - another upbeat sing-along number which perhaps indicates that Sleeper are at their best when being merely cheerful punky pop tunesmiths. OK, so they've chosen a really ugly and ridiculous name for themselves, but don't write Ednaswap off just yet.
Never heard of them? Neither had I, but you will be doing in the future if their self-titled debut is anything to go by.
This five-piece ensemble - who collectively hail from Los Angeles and look like they're taking time out from a touring French circus troupe - have been working hard, according to their press release, and Ednaswap, the album, is the result.
Those who like to pigeonhole may be frustrated with this one, though it could perhaps loosely be described as equal parts grunge (read: Soundgarden) and modern LA rock (read: Concrete Blonde and Jane's Addiction).
Singer Annie Preven has a powerful voice which has one foot in the alternative and the other firmly in the mainstream, driving the album along with its clear, up-front position in the mix.
Likewise the songwriting veers from the Seattle sound of opener This is a Song (guaranteed radio friendly), to the folksy delicacy of Ted and Joe, a sad ditty about a gay wedding in the age of AIDS.
While guitars crunch and wail over much of the album, there are plenty of openings in the wall of noise, as well as some unexpected colours such as the Cajun accordion sound on Glow.
However, some of the songs suffer from being over-stuffed or awkward, and there is something vaguely uncomfortable about much of Ednaswap.
This is, perhaps, ironically due to the very fact that its split personality defies easy categorisation, resulting in the listener not knowing which ears to wear.
But as far as debuts go it displays some musical maturity, so stay tuned - this band will be on your MTV screens soon.
Sleeper, Smart, BMG Records; Ednaswap, Ednaswap, East West Records