They'll have you singing in your sleep

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The Independent Culture

A TRIBUTE to persistence, Minneapolis trio Semisonic have hit the big time with their second album, 1998's Feeling Strangely Fine, selling two million copies worldwide and making up for a decade of dogged failure under various names.

A TRIBUTE to persistence, Minneapolis trio Semisonic have hit the big time with their second album, 1998's Feeling Strangely Fine, selling two million copies worldwide and making up for a decade of dogged failure under various names.

It is very fine too, superior college rock that's easily seduced an audience craving excitement and maturity, and wet as all hell to boot.

Frontman Dan Wilson's ode to his baby daughter dressed up as a drinking song, "Closing Time", likely to chart on its impending reissue, is by no means the soppiest thing on a record that could have comfortably borne the title I Love My Wife, while this summer's hit "Secret Smile" vaguely recalls U2's classic "One" while reshaping that song's platitudes to the personal.

However. bands who've hit with beautifully produced and detailed works can frequently be guilty of providing little more than a crude facsimile live, so it's a relief just how confident and polished they are.

Jacob Slichter drums and plays keyboards simultaneously, bassist John Munson is equally adept, and the three harmonise beautifully, and powerfully enough to drown out an audience set on singing every word back to them.

They don't do anything new or revolutionary, they just play a bunch of songs, but they're good songs, mostly, and sometimes exceptional, like the opener, "Singing In My Sleep", a touching tale of compilation tapes and romantic fixation, the pounding, distinctly Anglophile "All Worked Out", and the ecstatically received "Never You Mind", a ringer for Ben Folds Five, with Wilson on piano and Munson on fuzz bass.

It's not all great. A lumpy, if endearing cover of Teenage Fanclub's "Start Again" is a peculiar choice to put in the set, and we could do without the unedifying sight of Wilson leering like Jim Carrey playing a trendy priest and advising the crowd on the importance of the female orgasm before their worst song, the squirm inducing soul shuffle "Completely Pleased". The audience participation segment too feels contrived, almost as if they seem obliged to show they're down with local hero Prince.

But "Secret Smile" and "Closing Time" are nothing less than anthems to people who read books for pleasure and can spot a well-rounded couplet when they hear one, and there are more of them than you would think. In an age dominated by ephemeral pop poppets on both sides of the Atlantic, it's easy to see why a thirtysomething, literate, frankly middle class group should register so conclusively.

Perhaps they represent no more than a passing stopgap between fads, but there's never been much wrong with a few decent songs, performed well.

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