You want the best then you got the best. The hottest band in the world (etc)! Yes, it was exactly twenty years ago this week that the debut album from the hottest band in, um, Leeds at the very least, Utah Saints, was unleashed.
It had actually come out in the USA about six months earlier, with a completely different track listing, but the UK version is no doubt the definitive one. The album opens with the slightly odd and potentially pointless New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), kicking off a general pattern of exceptional singles and filler album tracks. This is by no means an exemplary album, but despite that it’s full of energy and fun.
Things really kick off properly with the second single What Can You Do for Me? which is excellent by any set of standards that you care to pick. Twenty years on, it is admittedly a little dated, but the sheer energy and rhythm would be impossible to dislike. In fact, it was their debut single in 1991, and with its Eurythmics samples it was a particularly early example of 80s retro, but took them straight into the top ten.
Soulution is a rare example on this release of an album track which is excellent, and it is followed by third single Believe in Me. By and large, the formula on this album is of singles which sample popular tracks out of the 1980s, and this one, a number 8 hit in 1993, is largely built around The Human League‘s Love Action (I Believe in Love). Which should make it brilliant, but there’s something which never quite sounds right for me about this track. It’s good, but it’s just not as overpoweringly exceptional as the other singles. It does have a pretty epic quality though.
Too Much to Swallow (Part 1) is up next, presumably in some way related to their brilliant 1994 non-album single I Still Think Of You (Too Much To Swallow Part 2). The album track is a fun brass-tinged piece, but isn’t really anything to write home about.
The album has, sadly, dated pretty badly. It does sound twenty years old, although that does work in its favour too – it’s hard to imagine they would have had such success with their recent remix singles if the originals hadn’t aged quite so significantly.
The two middle tracks are examples of this, but are also a return to their truly excellent form. Something Good was the second single in 1992, and rightly furnished them with their biggest UK hit at number 4. The key sample this time is from Kate Bush‘s 1985 track Cloudbursting, used to quite wonderful effect on this track. As with the other singles, you do have to wonder slightly how the original artists felt about the tracks – and perhaps what other unreleased goodies Utah Saints tried to release but were perhaps prevented due to lack of sample clearance.
I Want You, with its rock flavour, thanks to Slayer samples, was the fourth single in 1993, and is another exceptional track. As with much of the album, it takes you back to an age where sampling had not long come of age, and where the 808 or 909 were your only drum machine weapons of choice.
As with many releases, the latter half of Utah Saints is a less exciting collection of tracks. The quality never dips below a good enough level, but the additional remix of What Can You Do for Me? near the end does make for a worthwhile reminder of why you bought the album in the first place.
It would be another seven years before the even better follow-up Two would surface, with only a couple of one-off singles to fill the gap. And since 2000 we’ve barely heard a peep out of Utah Saints. Which is a shame, because for that one decade they were really rather brilliant.
If you’re in the UK, the debut Utah Saints album Utah Saints by Utah Saints can be found on iTunes here. Utah Saints.