Oct 11

TASMIN ARCHER – “Sleeping Satellite”

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#681, 17th October 1992

One-hit wonders can catch time in a bottle like no other records, since there’s barely any career context to distract you from your memories. “Sleeping Satellite” feels achingly 90s, but its mix of busker’s strum, baggy backbeat, and surprise-attack solos isn’t itself typical of any trend – except maybe a vague cosmopolitanism that encouraged such mild genre-blending in the first place. Its one-off cousins are 4 Non Blondes, Lisa Loeb, Natalie Imbruglia even – awkward sincerity throwing cool pop shapes.

But Tasmin Archer’s track has a heartfelt push to it even the best of those songs lack. Listening to “Sleeping Satellite”, for a long time I couldn’t work out why Archer was singing such palpable gibberish as if it meant something intensely important. She’s really trying to sell this thing – her enthusiasm and commitment is what keeps the track from gumming up, and what makes the sudden Hammond freakout work too. The fault was mine, though. “Satellite” comes draped in riddles and convolution but I’d never gone much further in than “I blame you…” and assumed this was a break-up metaphor. And not, say, a record about a generation’s post-1969 existentialist crisis. As Jarvis Cocker put it, later and more sardonic: “We were brought up on the space race / Now they want us to clean toilets.”

This, it seems to me, is part of what “Sleeping Satellite”‘s articulating: a sense of disappointment bordering on betrayal that having dreamed of the Moon – or indeed, because it got there – humanity now seems confined to a slowly boiling Earth. This is potent, raw stuff and very difficult indeed to cover effectively in a pop song. And in truth Archer doesn’t cover it effectively – the song’s ambiguous and flowery, its emotional kick comes from Archer’s self-belief more than anything you can read into it. But I have to say I like the idea that she tried.



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  1. 51
    Wizi on 14 Oct 2011 #

    I suppose the thing is Jarvis Cocker, is that even if we went to live on the moon, then we would still have toilets to clean. The mundane is always there.

  2. 52
    hardtogethits on 14 Oct 2011 #

    #51 Indeed, the mundane is always there in Jarvis Cocker’s work. His ability to articulate poetically the beautiful detail in everyday life is what many people see as his main strength. It’s what the outside world expects and wants from artists from Yorkshire and the Humber; it’s what they do best, in the eyes of the outside world. Be they Hockney, Bennett, Waterhouse, Armitage, Palin, Courtenay or Heaton or Cocker.

    I’ve just finished reading Anthony Clavane’s superb “Promised Land” in which he likens the story of Leeds to the story of Billy Liar “a classic tale of an upwardly-mobile, inwardly-anxious Northern Man”. And indeed, the artistic successes in several forms of several hugely influential characters of the late 20th- and early 21st century are characterised by the look-over-your-shoulder, take-it-with-a-pinch-of-salt, will-they-like-me-in-Capital-City doubt. A paradox that says you won’t succeed if you don’t stay true to your roots, and you won’t last if you do.

    Naturally, most move south, and a disproportionately high number become involved in dissecting and deconstructing the art they (and others) created. It’s a way of coming to terms with the fact that the critics have demystified what was once considered brilliant, and finally told the artist in question they’re on to them. They’ve been found out.

    I’ll relate this to the case of Tasmin Archer later.

    I’m off to club to watch Donny-Leeds.

  3. 53
    wichita lineman on 17 Oct 2011 #

    The chorus is so close to Duran Duran’s View To A Kill that I could never take this at face value. Or is it just me?

  4. 54
    punctum on 17 Oct 2011 #

    Don’t hear it myself, but the TOTP performance has always reminded me obscurely of this.

  5. 55
    wichita lineman on 17 Oct 2011 #

    Blimey, that IS obscure!

    The lines that are almost indistinguishable to my ears are “and the dream that died with the eagle’s flight” (Tasmin) and “one fatal kiss is all we need” (Duran).

    But I think it is just me…

    Tasmin appeared around the same time as Tevin Campbell, a mini-trend in pop star Christian names that didn’t extend to a Termaine, Tamantha, or Ttewart.

  6. 56
    Ed on 3 Nov 2011 #

    ‘Retromania’ has a pretty good riff on this one, making the Archer-Ballard connection (although not even Simon Reynolds knows the name of the rave track that sampled it.)

    There is a whiff of condescension there – he describes Archer as “endearingly earnest” – but he was obviously at least a little impressed: he named his daughter after her.

    (Or at least, she has the same name. But in my book that counts as an homage, conscious or not.)

  7. 57
    hardtogethits on 4 Nov 2011 #

    Goodness me! “Endearingly earnest” Really?

    I can’t pretend to be familiar with the work of JG Ballard, but Tasmin Archer here is very much the 20th Century John Donne.

    O ! more than moon,
    Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere ;
    Weep me not dead, in thine arms, but forbear
    To teach the sea, what it may do too soon ;
    Let not the wind
    Example find
    To do me more harm than it purposeth :
    Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
    Whoe’er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death

    Tasmin Archer’s achievement matches the her glorious ambition, yet it would not be permissible to praise it to the skies. Darn right, Ed #56 that “there is a whiff of condescension”. “Endearingly earnest”? I realise I’m taking the two word phrase out of context (for better or worse) but in itself it exemplifies the attitudes I described at #52.

    “Nice try, but look, love, you’re from Bradford. You want critical acclaim? Come and tell us “It’s Grim Up North”. Come on down and wear the old flat cap.”

  8. 58
    hibbysam on 14 Feb 2012 #

    did no one else pick up on #4 saying Gabrielle “wasn’t a patch” on the other four singers mentioned?

  9. 59
    weej on 14 Feb 2012 #

    I did say ‘IMO’. Just don’t like Gabrielle’s voice. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to discuss it quite soon.

  10. 60
    Cumbrian on 14 Feb 2012 #

    Fairly certain (s)he is referring to the turn of phrase with reference to her sartorial habits, rather than the opinion you were expressing.

  11. 61
    weej on 15 Feb 2012 #

    Not sure if I wrote that consciously or subconsciously… I hope the former.

  12. 62
    weej on 15 Feb 2012 #
  13. 63
    Mark G on 15 Feb 2012 #

    I read #53, thought about it, and yes. Then I read #55, agreed.

  14. 64
    flahr on 9 Aug 2012 #

    Not sure why I passed this when Popular actually met it, but for some reason it popped into my head again recently and I’ve not been able to get enough of it since. Quite apart from the somewhat unique pro-terraforming message (“I wonder why/Are the seas still dry?”) there’s so much going on in this song, and even “Telstar”-invoking intro and organ solo aside it’s surely one of the best sounding vocals of the decade: the sibilance in “this sleeping satellite”, the odd way the rhyme scheme of the chorus is AABBAAB (sky/die(d)/flight/night/why/dry/satellite) but the assonance just carries it over into working; all the tricks of rhythm and internal rhyme played throughout the verses, the passion and enthusiasm of the “GREATest adventure!” et al. It simply sounds beautiful, entirely befitting the themes of self-destructive romance and the sadness that comes from knowing that even if we managed to land on it, this sleeping satellite is still going to be quietly sitting there for years after we’ve gone. Fine. [9]

  15. 65
    hardtogethits on 9 Aug 2012 #

    #64 – flahr, that’s beautiful. As I said at #57, I didn’t think anyone would DARE to praise this song as lavishly as it merits. I’m so glad you made time to post these comments, and so sorry you weren’t able to comment at the time the discussion was liveliest.

  16. 66
    Auntie Beryl on 10 Jan 2013 #

    Re the curse of the Best Newcomer Brit, I think we can sort subsequent careers into three categories, working back from 2008 to give perspective:

    Longlasting success: Arctic Monkeys (if you squint a bit), Keane (ditto), Will Young, Belle & Sebastian, Stereophonics, Oasis, Wet Wet Wet, Human League

    Made it to album two as a force but then faded: Busted, Blue, S Club 7, Supergrass, Gabrielle, Lisa Stansfield, Bros, Housemartins, Go West, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Paul Young, Yazoo

    One album wonders: Duffy, Mika, Fratellis, a1 (good grief), Kula Shaker, Tasmin Archer,Beverley Craven, Betty Boo, Julie Covington

    Sure you could quibble with where some of those sit. The last group is grisly reading, though, isn’t it?

  17. 67
    hardtogethits on 13 Jan 2013 #

    #66. I think I know what you’re getting at, and the quibbling over where acts sit may be the most useful part of the exercise as I think it’d be interesting to define some groupings which could illuminate the picture we call “the Curse of the Newcomer Brit”. As it is, the categories are 1, 2 and >2, which self-evidently is all encompassing for any dataset where n must be at least 1. I’m trying to help, here, (honest!) as I think this could build into something interesting.

  18. 68
    speedwell54 on 13 Jan 2013 #

    Re 66 and 65 “curse of the Best Newcomer Brit” I wish I had more time to study this in detail and it does warrant debate. For now, from me -doesn’t everyone pretty much fit into one of those three categories? I guess the “newcomer” part is asking for some thought as to the future, unlike all the other awards, which look back over the previous year or more. It’s because of that, it is ripe for review and then criticism.

    On a quick look back you can pick stuff out like A1 beating Coldplay, but when Kula Shaker won it, it was pretty open (you could put a decent argument for “Ash” but only in hindsight) Most years change the winner for a nominee and I am not sure there’s a difference.

    I do not think there is a curse, but like Joan Armatrading, I’m open to persuasion .

    A large part of me thinks over the years the Brits have been all over the place, with so many changes to their outputs, most of which are in their control. Things change, I get this, and times have to move on and all that but;

    BPI awards, the Brit Awards, The BRITs
    1977 then not ’til 1982 onwards
    Outstanding Contribution every single year then 2011, nothing, but back again in 2012, off this year!
    No magazine, free magazine, no magazine but a programme.
    Not broadcast ,broadcast.
    BBC then ITV
    Live , not live.
    No radio, then radio.
    We’ll overrun, we can’t overrun!
    We’ll go with a DJ presenting, I mean a comedian, I mean a novice, I mean an Artist, no a comedian etc.

    In a separate category all to itself;
    The CDs from 1989 are ridiculous if you are trying to get somebody to get behind a collection.
    Let’s start with the title/spin title

    The Awards 1989
    The Awards 1990
    The Brits 1991 -the magic of British Music
    The Awards 1992
    The Awards 1993
    BRIT Awards 1994
    The Awards 1995
    the ’96 BRIT Awards
    the ’97 BRIT Awards
    the 1998 BRIT Awards The Album Of The Year
    the 1999 BRIT Awards- Album of The Year
    the 2000 Brit Awards -The Album of the Year
    37 BRITS 2001 HITS -Album of the Year
    38 BRIT AWARDS 2002 – Album of the year
    BRITs25Album. the music event of 2005
    BRIT AWARDS 2010
    BRIT AWARDS 2011
    BRIT AWARDS 2012

    record label goes from Telstar, Polygram,Columbia,BMG,Universal,Sony Music, Rhino
    Fat box until 1995 -fair enough, but then back to fat box in 2005 for one year. Card box from 2009
    Videos then Dvds separate then dvd with cd in 2005,2006, then gone
    2010 onwards triple cd.

    You don’t catch NOW TWICM messing about like that. Branding is really important and it’s all about the detail.

    I think the idea/concept of the BRITs is great and we should certainly celebrate success. We are good at music and we should award,reward,celebrate and show off about it. How we do that isn’t perfect.

    They have stuck to February, so I’ll give them that.

  19. 69
    hardtogethits on 13 Jan 2013 #

    #68, that’s a fantastic, thorough post that must’ve taken some documenting. Some hilarious observations about fairly astounding changes in policy. I think you’re on to something in hinting that the existence of the curse could be explained (away) by looking at the motivation behind the award, and that this will have been as changeable as other aspects of the Brits. Most simply of all, is it for potential (ie Most Promising) or having done such a lot so early? It’s been both, hasn’t it?

    Also, it’s worth mentioning that the gap in Brits between 1977 and 1981 was because “the industry” was quite happy with the British Rock and Pop Awards (aka National Rock and Pop Awards) – an annual event, voted for by the public, which was televised at the time, and promoted through the Daily Mirror, Radio 1 and BBC’s Nationwide, but which last time I tried (ie not just now) was difficult to research by mere googling. I think both BRAPA and the Brits took place in 1982, maybe 83 and 84 – not sure. By 1985 Brits were the only game in town.

  20. 70
    wichita lineman on 13 Jan 2013 #

    Re 68: “I think the idea/concept of the BRITs is great and we should certainly celebrate success”.

    I couldn’t agree less I’m afraid. To me it’s no different the CBI giving out annual BIZZ awards. I think pop, British or American, needs the industry and the artists to rub up against each other with mutual mistrust and disrespect. Without this friction, you might have had Annie Lennox in tears on telly every week instead of every year, or Nick Cave/Swans/Arcade Fire/uncommercial artistes on the radio all day long.

    Still Speedwell, that’s a smashing piece of research which shows just how much of a disorganised mess the music industry already was before changes in technology sent it over the edge.

  21. 71
    thefatgit on 13 Jan 2013 #

    Just remembered Auntie Beryl @66 was answering my question @38. The subsequent discussion is fascinating. Looking back over the other acts that were awarded Best Newcomer, how many of these were fan votes and how many were panel votes? It seems to me fandoms have a vested interest in voting up the likes of A1 and Bros, but I suspect a panel voted for Kula Shaker and possibly Tasmin. I’m supposing a lot of course, but it might help to split that list out a little further.

  22. 72
    Auntie Beryl on 14 Jan 2013 #

    The long list for each category offered up for the panel to choose from is typically twenty five acts – afraid I have no idea how this list is arrived at, but this year’s best album options included the likes of Orbital and Saint Etienne, so not just current major label priority acts.

  23. 73
    speedwell54 on 14 Jan 2013 #

    Re 68 hardtogethits

    Thanks for the info on the British Rock and Pop Awards; forgotten all about that; I’ll let them off that one then. I wish I knew if any guidance was ever given to the Academy voters about this particular award, or if it was self evident in the preamble when they were presented. I agree there is a “potential” element, which may be different from “who’s had the best start then” aspect but I don’t know how this difference is put across. Also I think there is some intention to give a little boost to an act who can then go past “two albums as a force”.

    Re 71 thefatgit, I don’t know about every year but recently the Academy provides a short list and then Radio 1 listeners vote from that, hence JLS in 2012.

    Re 70 witchita
    What are we good at in Britain? Football and music. (not an exhaustive list I know) We get football on television a lot. I don’t wish to start a debate on this music site, but some people go along with the view we have the best league in the world.(let’s not get sidetracked with foreign players) If they don’t agree, they at least know it exists as an argument and it is something worth debate. I believe we need to get that concept across to the general public about music in Great Britain.

    We are good at music, it should be a good news event. There’s enough bad news on the News and programmes like Jeremy Kyle, Crimewatch, Watchdog, Rogue Traders,Tonight with Trevor MacDonald etc etc and a big chunk of the printed media, (not the grundian) can give an unbalanced and distorted view. I know you want to come back with personal responsibility, but if that’s all you see every day when you look out of the window, well, that’s what you see. I get that it is a somewhat self congratulatory event but I think some of them have probably earned it. It does say something to me about my life.

    If you type any single letter into You Tube it is nearly always music that comes up, often British, not football, not anything else. We as a country are fighting well above our weight. This is just one simple measure, but it is global, and it is huge, and it is about the future.

    This is just me as a fan, and I know you have insider knowledge so fair play to you.

    Finally I ought to declare I was a former Academy member in 1996 (Jarvis vs Jackson)

  24. 74
    hardtogethits on 18 Jan 2013 #

    I hope these links work.

    The year given is the year IN which the awards were given – obv they rewarded the endeavours of the previous year:

    Here’s Clive James writing about the 1979 event . http://www.clivejames.com/thatsright

    But look at the embedded links on this! Cor!


    And here’s the Peel / DLT / Lawley / Peebles Dream Team at work in 1980

    1981: Fascinating relic, ruined by DLT. The response? The cool guy ignores him.


    1983 Will Thereza announce the results before the youtube clip runs out?


    1983 These little snippets Radio 1 ran were more entertaining than the awards ceremonies https://audioboo.fm/boos/1064352-british-rock-and-pop-awards-1982

    1984 Still going http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZDjM8gwcOs

    1985 Gone

  25. 75
    speedwell54 on 24 Feb 2013 #

    Re Me at 68, hardtogethits and wichita.

    The Brits were not great this year and more self serving than ever before. Ben Howard or Ben Who?ward is not the Best British Solo Artist; I don’t mind him getting break through act, but what does Calvin Harris have to do?; massive album and singles AND has success in America. Ben had a modest album and barely a hit single at all, anywhere. Nothing against Ben mind.

    Anyway, I won’t go on, and believe you me I could.

    I still like the idea of the Brits even if the execution is poor; one way or another there’s always next year.

  26. 76
    Steve Mannion on 24 Feb 2013 #

    #75 “but what does Calvin Harris have to do?”

    He’d probably have to sing a bit more often as the Best Bloody Bloke gong has always been reserved for those primarily known for their vocals. I know Fatboy Slim and Aphex Twin were nominated long ago (losing out to Robbie each time in a way that only highlights the pointlessness of the process when certain industry favourites are at large – I think one year Robbie actually won based on the same album he’d won the previous year’s award on the basis of?). Mark Ronson did somehow buck this trend a few years ago though. Ideally Aphex would’ve won twenty years ago heh.

    That said this’s year’s nominations seemed odder and more lacking than usual (no Robbie at least). It’s like a complete reversal of the days when Best Female was considered by many to be a weak area. The UK sorely lacks credible+exciting solo male singers (don’t think Dizzee’s been as interested in credibility since the taint of Calvin enabled him to have far bigger hits than he had up to that point – same goes for all the ex-Grime kids…good MCs tho they may remain) and every time Bowie resurfaces it’s a painful reminder. But perhaps those really are barriers to success here. Adele is neither, but nobody seems interested in a male equivalent of Adele or even trying to create a new Robbie (who could at least often charm his way out of his paper bag productions) at this point. Feels like it’s never been harder to take risks (a complaint the Brits always provoke tho).

    Well enough ranting now I must off and hear the new Jamie Lidell…

  27. 77
    Auntie Beryl on 25 Feb 2013 #

    If you want a sanitised, still charming yet less risky new Robbie, we’re talking about the troublemaking, heart-skipping bunnied Essex XF scion aren’t we?

    Pop fact: the only performer whose album sales declined last week despite performing at the Brits was… Robbie Williams. He’s now at the stage where his public appearances are actively putting people off a potential purchase.

  28. 78
    punctum on 25 Feb 2013 #

    So much so that his album climbed from 51 to 42 this week, and “Candy” from 51 to 39.

    we’re talking about the troublemaking, heart-skipping bunnied Essex XF scion aren’t we?

    Please don’t do the “we” thing or presume “we” know whom or what you’re talking about, because I don’t.

    What do “sanitised” and “risky” mean in music discourse? Not the Jim Jones Revue?

  29. 79
    Auntie Beryl on 25 Feb 2013 #

    I made no reference to chart positions, or singles sales.

    To be clear, I was referring to the numbers of CD copies Robbie Williams sold of his latest album in (i) the week before the Brits – just over 2250 compared to (ii) the week of the Brits itself – slightly north of 1600. That’s all.

    Other albums saw greater sales declines as the effects of the Valentine gifting market were absorbed into the week-on-week totals. But the sales figures stand.

    Elsewhere, I’m sorry to read that I came across as glib, or presumptuous in my post at #77. I apologise, and cheerfully withdraw it. Looking back, I tied myself in knots trying to avoid a spoiler, and I can see I was imprecise.

  30. 80
    Erithian on 27 Feb 2013 #

    If you don’t know who Auntie B is talking about at #77, it’s pretty clearly Olly Murs. I don’t think “spoiler bunny” principles preclude our naming him, Beryl!

  31. 81
    Kinitawowi on 1 Dec 2013 #

    #53: The dance posse Aurora, who teamed up with Naimee Coleman to perform a surprisingly acceptable cover of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World in 2000, brought her back to take on Sleeping Satellite a few years later. Somewhat less acceptable, sadly.

  32. 82
    hectorthebat on 4 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 1192
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 7
    Porcys (Poland) – The Best Songs of the 1990s (2013) 59

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