12
Nov 99

29. SAINT ETIENNE – “He’s On The Phone”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles of the 90s

Of course it would take this supremely thoughtful pop group to realise the naive potential of handbag house and then alchemise it into a single which is both their and handbag’s most ravishing five minutes. Thoughtful? Why yes: the secret – a secret – of pop is that while it may sound instinctive it never is. People who complain about the “manufacture” of records should look around their own garrets and root out the tell-tale tools.

So Saint Etienne make a classic record. How can we tell it’s a classic? (After all, it shows every sign of being forgotten already). Well, just as the Pope requires two proven miracles to canonise a Saint, so we must identify two miraculous moments in a pop song before we can bestow perfection upon it. First, the opening piano line of “He’s On The Phone”, a self-confident shower of silver which sets standards only the most euphoric of tunes could match. Secondly, that immense, affirmatory chorus, that open-armed “Yes!” and langourous “oooooooh”. That’s enough by our rules, but Saint Etienne are generous enough to hand us a third such moment: when Sarah Cracknell sighs “Got the cash / Feeling flash / In Leicester Square”, in one breathless line telling us of an ordinary life worth living, and a London you might want to live it in.

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