Saint Etienne – Good Humor

Saint Etienne‘s fourth album – at least as far as their original canon is concerned – was Good Humor, the American-flavored (ha) and distinctly less electronic comeback that saw their first full-length album release in the UK for over four years.

It opens with the metallic beats and gentle electronic piano of Wood Cabin, very much a love song for hermits, before the sweetly piano-driven introduction to Sylvie. This was an entirely respectable number 12 UK hit a couple of months ahead of the album’s release, but you have to wonder if that didn’t owe a lot to the Trouser Enthusiasts‘ brilliant dance interpretation which led the UK single release. In its album form, it still feels somewhat subdued, but it also would never have hit the charts at all if it hadn’t been quite such a catchy song.

With Saint Etienne, the sweet 1960s style pop is never far away, so Split Screen is a very welcome track that would make a great accompaniment to an English weekend country getaway. Apparently they chose the title Good Humor as a reaction to continually being told they sounded English. Well, I’m sorry, but you still do.

Many of the tracks on this album contain obscure references in their titles, so in case you can’t quite remember which one Mr. Donut is, it’s the one about international travel and duty free. It’s a good song, as is Goodnight Jack, which follows, although it hints slightly at being another epic like Avenue, which is only a slight disappointment when it tails off after four and a half minutes.

Next comes the aborted third single Lose That Girl, intended for release in September 1998 with another Trouser Enthusiasts remix. I think this might be my favourite track on here – it’s definitely one of the catchiest. That this never had the chances to reach the higher ends of the chart is a real shame.

The Bad Photographer did, and didn’t perform particularly well unfortunately. That is a shame – it’s another great pop song, although it’s probably fair to say that it’s not quite as great as Lose That Girl or SylvieBeen So Long and Postman follow, always with the great, catchy 1960s pop.

Erica America has always resonated somewhat with me, having moved to the US a few years ago and having immediately met more than one person called Erica, who of course each immediately earned the same nickname. Sung by an American, this might just work as a convincing US pop song. It would just need a bit more of a country feel and a few more hip hop beats. Maybe a rap, who knows. It’s another great song, anyway.

For me, this was the first album where Saint Etienne really got everything right. Previous albums had been good – some of them had been great – but they had all been a little bit inconsistent in one way or another, whereas Good Humor really just has all the right pop ingredients.

Dutch TV is arguably one of the weaker tracks on here, but not by a lot – the drifting organ and gentle drums complement Sarah Cracknell‘s voice perfectly, and it’s another catchy track. It’s also the closing track, which seems to come much too soon at this point.

If you can find the double CD deluxe edition, go for that one. At the time of writing, I could only see this single CD reissue, which should work perfectly well too.

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Chart for stowaways – 17 February 2018

Here’s the latest singles chart:

  1. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  2. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  3. The Beloved – Don’t You Worry
  4. Goldfrapp – Happiness
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  6. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  8. David Bowie – Beauty and the Beast
  9. Yazoo – Only You
  10. Saint Etienne – Dive

Saint Etienne – So Tough

Their debut album Foxbase Alpha had made a reasonable dent on the charts in late 1991 thanks to the memorable but minor hit Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and Saint Etienne had started to gain a reputation as one of the more creative forces in popular music. Second album So Tough is a pop concept album about growing up, which is such an unusual thing that it’s definitely worth a listen.

The album takes its name from a late Beach Boys album, Carl and the Passions – “So Tough”, the first track of which also provided the title of the compilation You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone, which followed later the same year.

It opens with Mario’s Cafe, which for those of you like me who can’t place exactly which song that is, it’s the one that goes “When we leave for work / Tuesday morning 10am”. It’s a pleasant pop song with just a hint at the start of the experimental sounds and samples that had stylised their debut album.

This album appeared in 1993, fifteen years ago this week, and by then, Sarah Cracknell had become a fully-fledged member. But there was still space for the pleasant instrumentals that had made up so much of the first release, so Railway Jam is an entirely appropriate inclusion at this point.

There are a few miniature breaks on here, of which Date with Spelman is the first, and then occasional collaborator Q-Tee turns up to rap on Calico, a pleasant but somewhat forgettable foray into hip hop. Then comes the glorious Avenue, released as a seven-minute single in late 1992. This was actually the opening single for this album, which may seem a little surprising until you find yourself a couple of minutes into the track, utterly captivated by it.

Then comes the huge hit single You’re in a Bad Way, which peaked at number 12 just before the album came out. While the single was augmented by samples from Brighton Rock, the album goes for the brilliant “Lose himself in London” quote from Billy Liar. It’s a great song, wonderfully catchy and with a splendid 1960s backing track, although it is just a little disappointing that the album version isn’t quite as good as the single release.

Memo to Pricey carries us through to the adorable Hobart Paving, the adorable suburban piano piece that appeared as half of a double a-side with Who Do You Think You Are as the third single from this album, and performed well on the charts.

This isn’t really Saint Etienne‘s finest work though – Leafhound is pleasant, but it doesn’t exactly go anywhere, and the chord changes seem a bit forced. Clock Milk and Conchita Martinez follow, and while you can absolutely see how they fit in with the narrative of the album, they don’t exactly stand well on their own. So it might come as something of a surprise to learn that this album, buoyed by its great singles, is actually the group’s highest-charting, having peaked at number 7.

There isn’t a huge amount left here, truth be told. No Rainbows for Me is nice, but dull to say the least. Then there’s another interlude track, Here Comes Clown Feet, and the dancey closing piece Junk the Morgue, and the album is rounded out with one last mini-track, Chicken Soup. It’s probably fair to say that things tail off a bit towards the end.

But if you take a bigger picture view, and see So Tough as the second step in Saint Etienne‘s growth as a group, which sees them starting to reach maturity over the next couple of albums, this is a strong step – the three great singles and its chart performance are definitely testament to that. It might not be the best album when you listen to it on its own, but it’s certainly an important album.

If you can, try to track down the double CD deluxe version of So Tough, which appears to still be available at the time of writing.

Week of oldies 5

Time now for another week of oldies. This week, we’ll listen to one of the most important dance records of all time, hear an influential experimental album that itself owes a lot to another influential experimental album, and rediscover some early Saint Etienne. It’s going to be fun!

Fun not guaranteed.

Chart for stowaways – 10 February 2018

The top ten singles this week:

  1. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  2. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  3. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  4. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  5. The Beloved – Don’t You Worry
  6. Goldfrapp – Happiness
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  8. Yazoo – Only You
  9. Saint Etienne – Dive
  10. Kylie Minogue – Dancing

Chart for stowaways – 27 January 2018

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  3. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  4. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  5. Yazoo – Only You
  6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  7. Saint Etienne – Dive
  8. Kylie Minogue – Dancing
  9. Fever Ray – To the Moon and Back
  10. David Bowie – Beauty and the Beast

Stowaway Awards 2018

After all the excitement of previous years, I’ve decided to tone down the Stowaway Awards a little this year, with just six categories. Here they are, with the full lists of nominees!

Best Track

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  • Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish for!
  • Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
  • Goldfrapp – Become the One
  • Kraftwerk – Radioaktivität
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  • Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  • Saint Etienne – Whyteleaf
  • Sparks – Scandinavian Design
  • Yazoo – Only You

We announced the winner already – it’s Depeche Mode.

Best Album

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode – Spirit
  • Erasure – World Be Gone
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  • Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  • Sparks – Hippopotamus

The winner is Depeche Mode.

Best Reissue / Compilation

Nominees:

  • Liza Minnelli – Results
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury: B Sides & Bonus Material
  • Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  • Pet Shop Boys – Release
  • Pet Shop Boys – Yes

The winner is Pet Shop Boys, for Release.

Best Artist

Nominees:

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Goldfrapp
  • Saint Etienne
  • Sparks

This year’s winner is Sparks.

Best Live Act

Nominees:

  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • múm

The winner is Jean-Michel Jarre.

Outstanding Contribution

Nominees:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • The Future Sound of London
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

The winner: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.