Friday, June 22, 2012

Sweet Tunes

Saint Etienne

“When I was ten, I wanted to explore the world.”

Pop begins here.

In a bedroom in the North, the South, the East or the West, softly-lit thanks to the scarf thrown across the lamp – just like Bolan’s, or Bowie’s, or Agnetha’s, or Kylie’s. It comes through headphones black and bulky, or small and cushioned. Down the canal to the drum, the hammer, anvil and stirrup. To the brain, to the blood, to the bones, to the heart.

“I used Top Of The Pops as my world atlas.”

And then we go somewhere wonderful.

Saint Etienne have been away. They left their friends in Turnpike House, pulled the door, turned the lock. That was 2005, a lifetime ago. The morning sun took them in different directions. Across London to the South Bank and the Festival Hall, where they spent a year around its long, lovely corridors as artists-in-residence. Then they made This Is Tomorrow, their tribute to the venue’s half-century. Sarah lent her honeyed vocals to DJ Mark Brown and scored a Top 20 hit with The Journey Continues; Pete hid in his Sussex studio complex turning out glorious remixes; Bob wrote a book that told the story of pop from the beginning.

They also made silver slivers of music together: Method Of Modern Love, Foxbase Beta, Christmas records for their fan club, and revisited and remastered their back catalogue – from Foxbase Alpha to Finisterre. These re-issues were a timely reminder of how much Saint Etienne meant to us, because it was hard to recall a time before we knew Nothing Can Stop Us or Only Love Can Break Your Heart, or Avenue, or He’s On The Phone, or Sarah Cracknell’s smile: “London’s musical laureates” they were now called, “perhaps the only band to capture the teeming variety of the capital.” Pitchfork described the sound of 1991 debut Foxbase Alpha as “an imaginary year-round summer.” The Guardian brought up their “consistently wonderful songwriting.” Eight albums, sixteen Top 40 hits, almost as many Top Of The Pops appearances. Someone mentioned “national treasures”

It has been 21 years.

“Over the border, I’m growing older, heaven only knows what’s on its way.”

Words and Music by Saint Etienne takes us through a life in pop music. It is about energy, rhythm, electricity, sound. How it feels when a chord takes you to another planet. How a lyric can change the course of your life. How a set of notes can catapult you back to a time and a place, to a sensation, deep, alive and true. And how that felt when it first arrived – a shock at first, jolting everything. Then like a balm, light and colour, your best friend, your whole world.

“It would be there for me. It would be there, for me.
And when I was married, and when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be so important?”

These new songs remind us – demand of us – that this feeling can still be.

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