This was never supposed to happen....

This was never supposed to happen. The stadium-conquering Stateside success story of the[a]Sneaker Pimps[/a] was something we could smirk at, another band forced to seek refuge in the land of meet’n’greets because, frankly, no-one cared enough here. Why would we choose Kelli Dayton‘s sterile version of trip-hop, after all, when we could gorge ourselves on the messed-up fragility of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons? For a moment, we could rightly feel superior. But, damn it, Sneaker Pimps were never supposed to get [I]good[/I].

A staunch refusal to cash in whatsoever on previous fame, this second album is the band’s hangover after the long night of success brought by debut ‘Becoming X‘. It’s faintly ugly and always a breath away from self-destruction, the vision of a band who’ve renounced smiling at people they hate and wrestled their collective soul back from the devil. It might be black and weary but at least this time it’s their own.

As ultimate proof of that, Sneaker Pimps have found the guts to get rid of their most recognisable asset. Kelli, remember, may have been the face of the Pimps‘ success, but she wasn’t even officially in the band. In fact, listening to ‘Splinter‘, it’s a mystery why they even bothered with her. Unlike his predecessor, new frontman and original guitarist Chris Corner avoids singing like a specimen in a clinical experiment and so, naturally, has ten times her passion. He may not sound as pretty, certainly, but injects a sleazy, fascinating edge to each darkly brooding tune as he slowly, joyously murders any ghost of trip-hop that still lingers.

This is most affecting on the moody brilliance of the opening four songs. Incorporating recent single ‘Low Five‘ and the eerie anger of stand-out track ‘Lightning Field‘, Chris whispers huskily over the bare bones of electronic goth-tinged tunes. His abstract punctuation-free lyrics have the same bleak power as ‘OK Computer‘ – strangely meaningful without saying anything – and ultimately make ‘Splinter‘ as compelling as it is claustrophobic.

Bravely beautiful, it’s so good you already know America will hate it.

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