Sneaker Pimps' Voice Changes On Second Album

British trip-hop-rock band prepares to release record a year after lead singer's departure.

WOLVERHAMPTON, England — Something was missing when the Sneaker Pimps took the stage at the Wolverhampton Varsity on Wednesday night — the woman who sang their hit, "6 Underground" (RealAudio excerpt).

Instead, guitarist Chris Corner got behind the microphone for that relaxed, sleazy trip-hop number and for the rest of the Sneaker Pimps' set, which included material from their upcoming album, Splinter.

The British band recorded Splinter — scheduled for an October release in the U.K. — without singer Kelli Dayton, who quit last summer in what was reported as an amicable departure.

"We are the same band," drummer Dave Westlake said before the gig. "To the public, it may look like we've totally changed, but it's really only one instrument that's changed."

Having taken over that "instrument," Corner said he feels no pressure to fill Dayton's shoes. "We were always the ones who wrote the songs," said the guitarist, who writes and produces the Sneaker Pimps' material with keyboardist Liam Howe. "Now it's just us performing them as well."

The new material the Sneaker Pimps played Wednesday, including "Superbug" and "Lightning," suggested that in Dayton's absence the band's past fusion of trip-hop beats and rock sounds is giving way to something more raw and loose. The guitar and vocals were much louder than Howe's keyboards, and the change may have been a symptom of the Sneaker Pimps' wish to move away from what Howe called the "whimsy breeziness" of "6 Underground."

"We thought '6 Underground' was just a filler on the album," Howe said, "and it turned out to be our biggest hit!"

The follow-up to the band's debut, Becoming X (1996; 1997 in the U.S.), which included "6 Underground," Splinter will be the band's second studio album of original material. Howe described the album as "glorious — it's like a spiritual homecoming for the band."

"The first album had a sort of naivete," Westlake said. "Now, we're taking it back to writing songs that we thought people would want to listen to. It's kind of more important, and there's less of the zeitgeist about it."

The band couldn't quite agree in defining the difference between the two albums. "The new record sounds more alive," Westlake said, "and it took longer to record. ... It's heavier." Howe called Splinter "more intense" than Becoming X, while Corner thought it was "thinner."

Either way, "they're still really good," said Marcha Davies, 19, of Wolverhampton, who was at the Wolverhampton Varsity show. "And the new singer is such a flirt. The band still ... smolders!"

In front of an easygoing crowd grooving gently to the music and occasionally demanding that the sound crew turn up the bass, the Pimps seemed to be at home onstage. Corner made light work of the band's older material, such as the rockish "Spin Spin Sugar"

(RealAudio excerpt).

"Low Five," the band's forthcoming single, was well-received. Preserving the first album's style, it incorporated a repeated keyboard riff and a sexy, if somewhat depressed, vocal line.

The band's ambient trip-hop style has triggered comparisons between the Sneaker Pimps and fellow British band Portishead, which also released a debut album in 1996. "But we recorded ours first," Howe said. "We were a bit peeved when everyone thought we'd copied them.

"Music is an art, it's creative, so you're bound to find that parallel invention happens sometimes ... Anyway, our aim now is to create something more substantial."