AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #47 : SAINT ETIENNE

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A GUEST POSTING FROM THE ROBSTER

Don’t Forget To Catch Me: An Imaginary Saint Etienne Compilation

Saint Etienne is one of those bands who always give me a lift. How can you possibly be glum when listening to a Saint Etienne record? They epitomise what proper, honest, creative pop music should be about. All their songs could (should) easily be played on mainstream radio, but at the same time there’s something quirky and original enough about them to ensure they never get tarred with the same brush as your average fly-by-night pop stars who wouldn’t know one note on a synth from another.

Saint Etienne’s second album ‘So Tough’ remains one of my faves of all-time, but I don’t think they’ve really made a duff record. Sure, some are better than others, but in general pretty much everything has been above average, if not better. So I present a career-spanning collection of 10 songs which I think represents why Saint Etienne are so special.

I attempted one of my podcast-type things for this, even creating some segues to drop between the tracks just like Saint Etienne did on their early records. Trouble is, I’m really not skilful enough to pull off anything so clever. I have therefore decided to present each track separately in conventional 10-track LP fashion. The ‘podcast’ mix however, has also been dropped in just in case anyone is curious.

SIDE ONE

1. How We Used To Live (2000, from ‘Sound Of Water’)

‘Sound Of Water’ is possibly the band’s most difficult album to get into. Not because it’s not very good – on the contrary, it’s one of their most intriguing records – but because it doesn’t contain the obvious pop tunes of its predecessors. It’s more laid back and experimental in its approach. By way of introduction, How We Used To Live was released, in full, as its lead single. It’s a nine-minute suite that shows off some of the moods and directions the album took.

2. Popular (2012, from ‘Words And Music By Saint Etienne’)

A song about finding kindred spirits through music. I do find a good in depth discussion about music is incredibly therapeutic, providing the people I’m in discussion with know what they’re talking about. That’s not to say I have to agree with them. Some of the most satisfying debates I’ve had with people have been when we are in fundamental disagreement. But, in the words of the late great Brian Clough: “I’ll listen to what they have to say, we’ll talk about it and then decide that I was right!” ‘Words And Music’ was an astonishingly good album, their best in more than a decade, I would venture.

3. Who Do You Think You Are (1993, double a-side single)

Originally recorded by Candlewick Green, this wonderful, wonderful song was updated some 20 years later by Saint Etienne. It’s definitely one of my fave tracks of theirs, and it makes up possibly their best single as a double-A with…

4. Hobart Paving [single version] (1993, double a-side single)

Stops me in my tracks this one. This version beats the album version hands down thanks to that lovely, mournful French horn solo. As close to perfection as it’s possible for a pop song to get.

5. Avenue (1992, from ‘So Tough’)

One of the band’s strangest singles maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less glorious. There’s all sorts of things going on in its seven minutes, not all of them obvious to a commercial pop single. But that’s Saint Etienne all over, isn’t it. In the interest of running time, I’ve included the 7″ radio edit here which, while slightly unfulfilling, still contains the essential elements.

SIDE TWO

1. Teenage Winter (2005, from ‘Tales From Turnpike House’)

‘Tales From Turnpike House’ was Saint Etienne’s concept album. Most of their songs stem from observations of real life, but this was all about people living in a block of flats, loosely based on where the band members themselves once lived. I adore this track. Kind of makes me want Sarah Cracknell to read my favourite books to me.

2. He’s On The Phone (1995, from ‘Too Young To Die: Singles 1990-1995’)

If Sarah fronted the Pet Shop Boys, it might have sounded like this. An utterly brilliant single, pop music at its best. It remains Saint Etienne’s highest-charting single, reaching number 11. Guaranteed none of the top ten that week were even in the same class as this.

3. Former Lover [single mix] (1994, original from ‘Tiger Bay’)

Earmarked as a single from the band’s third album, Former Lover is a great example of the more acoustic sound Saint Etienne incorporated into their sound. The electronics weren’t ditched entirely, but there were more folk instruments and orchestral arrangements than they had used before. This version of Former Lover remained unreleased until the 2006 fan-club release ‘Nice Price’.

4. Join Our Club (1992, single)

Another great pop single that dropped in between the first two albums. It’s all about finding your ‘tribe’ through music, particularly at a time when rave and grunge were dominant. It does, however, reference pop music through the ages and how it brings people together. It’s a subject they would revisit on more than one occasion.

5. Only Love Will Break Your Heart [Weatherall’s Mix of Two Halves] (1990, original from ‘Foxbase Alpha’; this version released on 12″ of the single)

Saint Etienne have long been a remixer’s dream. Weatherall was one of the first to pick up on this, turning the band’s debut single into a dub masterpiece. I considered only including the second half here, but thought Swiss Adam may never forgive me if I did. He’d probably be right as well…

mp3 : Saint Etienne – How We Used To Live
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Popular
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Who Do You Think You Are?
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Hobart Paving
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Avenue
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Teenage Winter
mp3 : Saint Etienne – He’s On The Phone
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Former Lover
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Join Our Club
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Only Love Will Break Your Heart

mp3 : Saint Etienne – The Robster’s podcast mix

Enjoy

16 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #47 : SAINT ETIENNE

  1. wow, great compilation of a great band! there are so many songs, way too many for a 10-song compilation and I can’t really argue about the selection. I do miss Pale Movie though, but can’t give a strong candidate to remove – but I think I would take out the closing track and save it for the remix compilation instead, Pale Movie has to be in.

  2. Excellent choices. I think I would have included speedwell and I happen to have a soft spot for the track ‘conchita martinez’ although I forget what album its on.

  3. I started doing a Saint Etienne compilation before, quite frankly, wimping out. So I’m just impressed that anyone managed the task!

    Side-effect of listening to Saint Etienne: whenever questions about women’s tennis come up on “Pointless”, I can usually get a pointless answer with “Conchita Martinez”.

  4. By the way, I looked up the top ten that “He’s On The Phone” just failed to make. It’s from exactly twenty years ago today, Sunday 5 November 1995. Number two was “Wonderwall” by Oasis. So I would agree that there was nothing in the top ten in the same class, though others here wouldn’t… (And I’m just off to YouTube now to check out the number 10, “When Love and Hate Collide” by Def Leppard, on the offchance that it turns out to be a lost classic!)

  5. Wow! Really tough to pick a short list out of so many great ones — can’t argue with any of these 10. Well done, Robster!

  6. Another tough one, Robster, but you were up to the task. I’m partial to Nothing Can Stop Us, Hug My Soul and Like a Motorway, but I can’t argue with any of your worthy selections. How’d you like that Def Leppard, Alex? Ha!

  7. The Def Leppard track turns out to be an instantly forgettable ballad that Ronan Keating either will inevitably cover at some point, or already has.

  8. Excellent choices Robster!! And I have to agree on Words And Music–once I hit play on that album it repeats over and over.

  9. An impossible task, but you’ve come out of it with flying colours. Slightly dissapointed at the lack of a track from my favourite album of theirs,’Good Humor’ and I also would have to have put in ‘Milk Bottle Symphony’. Fantastic band. Sarah has a new album out that’s worth checking out

  10. There I was all ready to quibble and complain as you always do with these things but damn it that is a great collection

  11. Superb selection and a great reminder of how much I (we) love Saint Etienne. Some tough choices e.g. Tiger Bay selections and Only Love version. Many thanks Robster!

  12. I make a cd length long mix (And Your Bird Can Sing) and I closed mine out with “The Way I Fell For You” from the “Misadventures of Margaret” soundtrack – its a fantastic closing track and lends a cinematic feeling to it all.

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