We British have always excelled at Sleaze. It's one of the few thing we're still genuinely good at. Sleaze is as British as The Lad, spotted dick and the Queen Mum. Sadly though, this year Sleaze took a bit of a knocking. The tabloids, ever keen to rubbish this government (if not the Tory party itself), turned Sleaze into a few junior ministers taking backhanders from shady coporations - which is corrupt, but not in any way sleazy. OK, so they also caught a couple of backbenchers with their pants down, but that's really just the nursery slopes of Sleaze.
Real Sleaze, that oddly compelling, always alarming mix of the furtive and the sexual, the plain defiant and inexplicably sneaky, was, and is, best left to pop stars. Sleaze, when practised by them, as opposed to Tory MPs, is secretive and extravagent, It's camp plus sexual dynamite. The sleazy are skinny, pouting and self destructive. They care enormously about the thoroughly trivial and not a joy about the unarguably important. Sleazy people never bother talking about politics unless it's sexy, they care about Gay Rights (very sexy), but not generally about Women's Rights (not at all sexy), about bits of the Criminal Justice Act because it's those bits that stop them dancing, but not the bit about the abolition of the Right To Silence beacause Sleaze has never been backwards at coming forwards.
From David Bowie at his coke-sniffing, Sieg Heiling best, through Morrissey to Jarvis Cocker, Andy Bell and Richey Manics, Brit pop's always knwon how to create a sense of high anxiety, particularly sexual anxiety. This, by the way, is why most Yanks can't stand Brit pop. They like their rock robust, sugar-free and sexually unambiguous. They're very literal like that. This goes a long way to explaining why Suede will never make it in the States. Though, by Brit standards, Brett Anderson isn't particularly sleazy (even Damon Albarn's allegations in iD that the singer is a junkie have failed to secure him the guttersnipe glamour he so obviously craves), just one look at his greasy fringe is enough to bring the Yanks out in goosebumps. It also gord some way to explaining why Morrissey has made it Stateside. Once he'd stopped unnerving people and turned into an MOR rockabilly, only 'Beavis & Butthead' were clever enough to hate him.
Over here, Sleaze came in spurts. Though it didn't chacterise the year, it did, when it reared its pretty leering head, prove one of the more diverting things about 1994. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker did very nicely but then, with a face like that, hungry and lascivious, and a body that suggests he's either hung like a horse or has nothing down there at all, Jarvis could hardly have failed. Before he was in a pop band, he must simply have looked like a badly bullid wanker. As a singer, he's wonderfully fanciable and brilliantly glamorous. That's what Pop and Sleaze can do for you.
These Animal Men yapped about sulphate and masturbation, wore eyeliner and succeeded in dividing the indie nation, though not in the right way. People thought they were either cute or pathetic and, to be genuinely sleazy, you need to be a bit of both. That's when things start to unsettle. Evan Dando tried hard (weoo he took loads of drugs, talked about sex and hung around with famous people) but Evan is American and thus came across as a brain-dead jock in a frock.
As far the best of the new Sleaze contenders was Gene's Martin Rossiter. Pictured at the beggining of last month on the front cover of Melody Maker, ciggarette in hand (Sleaze loves to smoke) and wearing a thoughtfully predatory expression, he introduced himself to Allan Jones with the words, "Oh, you silly man", and went on to explain that Gene were more important than U2, adding that he'd "rather die than deny it". Sleazy people are always saying they'd rather die than do something that, to everyone else, is utterly unimportant. Just before The Smiths self-destructed, Morrissey ponced around telling all and sundry that he'd rather die than listen to Diana Ross. The most alarming thing about all this is that sleazy people really honestly mean it. And it's this penchant for lending the absolutely frivolous tremendous gravitas that makes Sleaze so Pop.
Richey James, the Manic Street Preachers' gorgeous, soft-spoken guitarist exemplified this better than anyone else when, a few years back, a journalist matter-of-factly questioned the band's integrity and Richey responded by carving the legend '4 REAL' into his own forearm.
This was Pop Sleaze at its most extreme, pointlessly vain and brilliantly photogenic. And Richey was up to it again this year. After a gig at Glastonbury, he mysteriously disappeared, forcing the group to cancel gigs. By late summer, it was clear that Richey must be 4REALing it again. At first, it was simply suspected that he, always a prolific boozer, was just suffering from a prolonged heavy-duty hangover. It soon became obvious, though, that his problems were somewhat more serious. Richey revealed he was anorexic.
Now, anorexia really is a very fucking sleazy disease. Not just because it wastes the body (in pop, unlike politics, you can't be fat and sleazy) but because it shrivels the genitals, forcing them to mimic and parody a pubescent state.
Anorexia's not just about wanting to be pretty, as Richey mostly claimed it was, it's wanting to be young, very young. Which is very pop. The condition is also addictive, many claim more addictive than any drug. And, unlike drugs that can be walked away from or removed, anorexia exists as a stubborn state of mind, and it's really difficult to change a stubborn bastards mind.
In Richey, the condition exhibited itself as the apotheosis of the Manics' attitude - brutal, pitiable, laced wityh awful pathos, sexually ambivalent (after all, isn't it supposed to be girls that get anorexic?) and profoundly, morbidly glamorous. It was the glamour and the dire self-destructive self-control that Richey fell for hardest. This was Zen Sleaze. In an interview with Simon Price, he said, "The idea of political prisoners going on hunger strike, I thought it was so beautiful." You could tell it wasn't their politics Richey fell in love with, it was their skinniness and resolve.
The cover shot had a smiling Richey leaning against a wall of skulls. It was extravagantly tasteless and worked like a dream.
The Maker is pretty good at Sleaze too.