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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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Comments

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  1. 31
    Billy Smart on 4 Oct 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Tasmin Archer performed ‘Sleeping Satellite’ on Top of the Pops on four occasions. Details of the Christmas edition shall be provided anon;

    24 September 1992. Also in the studio that week were; Messiah, Sade, Boy George, Suede and Mike Oldfield, plus a live performance by satellite from Boyz II Men in New Orleans. Mark Franklin was the host.

    8 October 1992. Also in the studio that week were; M People, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Dina Carroll and Take That, plus a live performance by satellite from Billy Ray Cyrus in Nashville. Tony Dortie was the host.

    15 October 1992. Also in the studio that week were; Sunscreem, Bizzare Inc featuring Angie Brown, Doctor Spin and Boyz II Men, plus a live performance by satellite from Bon Jovi in New York. Mark Franklin was the host.

  2. 32
    Billy Smart on 4 Oct 2011 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just a handful of UK TV appearances for Tasmin;

    THE BRITS: with Richard O’Brien, Shakespears Sister, Right Said Fred, Annie Lennox, Tasmin Archer, Genesis, The Cure, Erasure, Simply Red (1993)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Was Not Was, Smokey Robinson, Tasmin Archer, Baaba Maal & Ooumou Sangare (1992)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with The Cure, Tasmin Archer, Willie Nelson (1996)

    THE O ZONE: with Pet Shop Boys, Lisa Stansfield, Tasmin Archer (1993)

    THE O ZONE: with Tasmin Archer, The Stereo MCs (1993)

    THE WORD: with Paula Yates, Henry Rollins, Living Colour, Huggy Bear, Tasmin Archer (1993)

  3. 33
    JLucas on 4 Oct 2011 #

    #27 Aside from them both being black British females who had hits in the 90s, I fail to see how Tasmin is in any way similar to Des’ree.

    Although for many reasons I really wish ‘Life’ had been a #1 single.

  4. 34
    Izzy on 4 Oct 2011 #

    For some reason I forced myself to love this at the time and take a very public position that this was exactly the type of proper music that should be topping the charts. But really it was always kind of boring.

  5. 35
    hardtogethits on 4 Oct 2011 #

    #29, You’re probably right about Radio 1’s attitude and what the old guard made of it, but truly Radio 1 gave far, far more airplay to (say) Ebeneezer Goode* before it charted than it did to Sleeping Satellite.

    When Radio 1 finally A-listed Sleeping Satellite (and boy did it support it then) it was already a big hit.

    * I cite this example as I think maybe (in just the way you say) the old guard of Radio 1 DJs may not have approved – but Radio 1 was a pop station and would give early airplay to anything for which it could foresee demand – at this time it was also the first to show support for new material by Deacon Blue, Bruce Springsteen, Bizarre Inc, Bon Jovi, 2 Unlimited, Nirvana – and so on.

  6. 36
    anto on 4 Oct 2011 #

    re 19: I know what you mean by coffee shop song. I wouldn’t say this was clearly a 90s song nor would I say it was harking back to an earlier pop era. If it reminds me of anything it’s the songwriter-of-the-week type music you hear piped into Cafe Nerros.
    I wouldn’t think of it as worthy of veneration or derision. It’s almost a definition of just ok. Also it was the only number 1 of 1992 that didn’t outstay it’s welcome. She has a pleasant voice nad the tune is unmistakably catchy. I’ve never given much consideration to what she was singing about.
    Where on Earth is she now????

  7. 37
    nixon on 4 Oct 2011 #

    Was hoping someone would have answered that question by this point too! Almost the default first question in any piece that begins by talking about a one hit wonder.

    (btw the Glory Days quote is slightly wrong, /pulpnerd)

  8. 38
    thefatgit on 4 Oct 2011 #

    I hope I’m not being harsh by saying she looks like Heather Small’s nerdy little sister in the video. When I say “nerdy”, I really mean introverted. And when I say “introverted”, I really mean studious. And she certainly doesn’t sound like Heather Small, but then it’s only an obsevation.

    She won a Best British Newcomer award at the Brits. When did this start becoming a burden? So many newcomers/breakthroughs have fallen by the wayside haven’t they?

  9. 39
    hilker on 4 Oct 2011 #

    Sampled in “Rush Hour (Last Minute Mix)” by Wishdokta.

  10. 40
    LondonLee on 5 Oct 2011 #

    #33 Really? I thought they were both out the same stylistic cupboard. I just went and listened to ‘You Gotta Be’ to make sure my memory wasn’t deceiving me, but no. The same lightly soulful singer-songwritery sound with gentle grooves.

    Or is it just me?

  11. 41
    MBI on 5 Oct 2011 #

    The connection between Des’ree and Tasmin Archer seems pretty obvious to me — I’d never heard of Ms. Archer before but Des’ree is the first person I thought of when I heard this song.

  12. 42
    will on 5 Oct 2011 #

    Yes, I recall this was enthused over greatly by the old guard of R1 DJs. And like them her career was pretty much wiped out by Britpop a couple of years later.

    I still think is quality though (as is In Your Care). As others have mentioned there’s a mystery and ambiguity to it that Des’Ree’s run of pretty rum singles never possessed. A brilliantly autumnal Number One too.

  13. 43
    lex on 5 Oct 2011 #

    Sonically Archer and Des’ree are within the same very large ballpark but aesthetically, in terms of their songwriting, subject matter etc, they really aren’t similar at all. I quite liked Des’ree too though.

  14. 44
    JLucas on 5 Oct 2011 #

    Yeah I would say Des’ree is a much less ambitious songwriter. I mean I know it’s an obvious comparison but compare stuff like this and In Your Care to

    Life
    Oh Life
    Oh Life
    Doo do do doo.

    That said, Des’ree is blessed with a lovely voice and ‘Feels So High’ deserved to be a much, much bigger hit.

    She was of course another example of the BRIT AWARDS curse, although she had at least had a decent run of hits before she vanished post-victory.

  15. 45
    Another Pete on 5 Oct 2011 #

    There was a Tasmin Archer badger on the original Channel 4 Harry Hill series which along with Bo’Selecta’s Craig David has distorted my mental image of both these acts. I did actually hear this song in a cafe not so long ago and had a mental image of puppet badger singing. I agree with Will above this is a great autumnal song. In regards to the Tasmin Archer and Des’ree comparison. I feel that Des’ree should of had the big hit in 1992 and Archer during the Britpop period when being a songwriter coming from the north was considered cool. Unfortunately for both careers it was the other way around.

  16. 46
    JLucas on 5 Oct 2011 #

    Actually it’s interesting that Tom notes that Archer’s vocal is what lifts this track above its complicated lyrical conceit. This is very true – but a similar thing happens with Des’ree. She’s a pretty terrible lyricist, but her gorgeously rich voice can even make flagrant nonsense like ‘What’s Your Sign’ sound quite lovely.

    As I pointed out above though, Archer is a much better songwriter, but not one who writes the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear in the upper reaches of the top forty. Hence the brevity of her chart career I guess.

  17. 47
    Unlogged Mog on 5 Oct 2011 #

    When I was a young Mog I thought this was one of the most moving things IN THE HISTORY OF EVER.

    (there is also potential for an unbearably cute plushie pyjama-Mir)

  18. 48
    Erithian on 5 Oct 2011 #

    Anto #36 – as I mentioned upthread, as of 2009 she was a home-and-away Sunderland supporter! – but she hasn’t released a new album since 2006 and her website hasn’t been updated since June last year. A pity, as I’m sure she still has a lot to offer.

  19. 49
    lex on 6 Oct 2011 #

    I’m listening to Archer’s third single now, “Lords Of The New Church”, and like “Sleeping Satellite” I’m struck by how weirdly topical and prescient it seems now. When I first heard it, being 9 or 10, I didn’t get much further than the religious metaphor, and it’s wrapped up in that enough that it could stand for any kind of cult-like behaviour, but it does seem to target financiers/bankers/the City/Wall Street etc: “here’s the man some believe is a visionary / here’s the man who is driven by greed / he made a fortune overnight / in a deal that he knew was too good to be true / as he bends the rules of play / becomes obsessed with the game / has to go all the way / they feast and they fly / while we pay the real price”. Credit crunch anthem two decades in advance! (er I guess there was a recession back then too)

  20. 50
    Davyboyb on 13 Oct 2011 #

    Like #22 I thought of Telstar (instrumentation rather than melody) when hearing the organ in this song, harking back to the optimism at the start of the space race.

    Liked this at the time and still do when I hear it now and then.

    “Have we peaked too soon?” In your case, Ms Archer – ‘fraid so.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. 54
    punctum on 17 Oct 2011 #

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.)

  27. 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.”

  28. 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?

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

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