19
Jun 09

London Belonged To Them

FT5 comments • 722 views

I have been very remiss in not pimping the reissue of Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha in a grand 2CD deluxe edition. (A similarly deluxified Continental is also out: other records will follow across the year.) Not only is it one of my favourite 90s records, the new edition boasts extensive sleevenotes by… me! They weave interviews with Bob, Pete, Sarah, Ian Catt and Martin Kelly in with my own theorisin’ about the record. When you’re done squinting at those you can look at lots of lovely photos of the band in the bloom of their youth, and also – of course – enjoy the excellent music.

Below the cut is an extract from the sleevenotes, talking about some of the album tracks:

It’s not just Sarah Cracknell’s voice that pulls the Foxbase scrapbook together. The fragments and sounds Stanley and Wiggs found attractive – the deep pull of dub aside – were often the most evanescent ones: spider-silk guitar picking or the gentlest keyboard washes, mixed into soothing vinyl crackle and held in place by the beat. It’s not so much crate-digging for forgotten records, but for the forgotten bits of records, the filigree touches producers drop in to give their records an indefinable colour. Foxbase takes them all and knocks the centre out, to create an album that nowadays sounds deliciously Balearic, but also owes as much to the committed lightness of indiepop.

What those styles have in common is a quest for the texture of emotion – call it “feeling” or “vibe” or whatever you like, capturing in sound the moment when the Mediterranean sun comes up, or when another’s hand enfolds your own. Foxbase Alpha is full of “what it’s like” moments – thinking of a lover in the small hours, a trip to the sweetshop, walking through the city in Spring, the fuggy chill of a season on the turn.

Bob: On “Carnt Sleep” we’d been listening to stuff Jon Savage had recommended, like Keith Morgan’s Pick A Dub, King Tubby. I’d never think of attempting something like this now. I just wouldn’t think we could pull it off. You get older and you feel a bit more like you might be making a fool of yourself – I’m pleased we did it though, it works.

Pete: “Carn’t Sleep” came out of the bassline – the spelling on that is a Happy Mondays tribute.

Bob: “Spring” was an attempt to do something that sounded a bit like the Impressions.

Sarah: I loved “Spring”. Looking back on it now after singing it live for years, I’m quite impressed and proud with the performance on the album. I’m quite shy about my singing and with “Spring” I thought I’d let loose a bit.

Bob: “Stoned To Say The Least” was based on early house, Fingers Inc. We combined that with bits of feedback. You never think you’re gonna make a second album so it’s the classic thing of just throwing in a bit of everything you liked.

Pete: It was the track we’d come on to when we did our PAs. Because we were new to the game we’d stand there absolutely terrified with this smoke machine pumping more and more smoke on and that track playing. The bassline still strikes fear into my heart.

Bob: We knew there was a thing called a bass harmonica on “Pet Sounds” so we thought we’d have a go for the harmonica on “She’s The One” by slowing a normal one down to half speed.

Pete: “Girl VII” was originally called “Militaria” cos of the drum sound – the big list of names in the middle, which is what everyone remembers about it, we put in at the end because we felt we needed something extra.

Bob: It was because of “Vogue” by Madonna. I think Sarah had been to San Clemente but the places in it, at the time most of us had never been. There’s a Hungarian football team in there from a Panini sticker book – see if you can spot it.

Ian: Pollards Hill where we were recording is in there, and Dollis Hill – I remember going out to get a road atlas so we could find more places.

Comments

  1. 1
    Steve Mannion on 19 Jun 2009 #

    A collaborative Spotify playlist of St Etienne “samples and influences”
    http://open.spotify.com/user/stevem78/playlist/12XrmOzxDJmXEGAeq2Ts5H

    The comments from Bob and Pete were obv v handy here!

  2. 2
    David on 20 Jun 2009 #

    What movie did they grab “etienne gonna die” from?
    I put that on a lot of comps.

    “you son-of-a-bitch you’ve been steamrolling over me all night!
    I think you’re trying to buy it pal”

  3. 3
    Tom on 21 Jun 2009 #

    House Of Games, IIRC

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 21 Jun 2009 #

    David Mamet really ought to have been given a songwriter credit on that song.

    My God, 1991 was a long time ago by now… St Etienne were always the band who I think I’d have enjoyed being in the most – I’ve often wished that a working day could start like ‘Mario’s Cafe’

    As its a deluxe edition, do they give away a set of Foxbase Alpha cards with it?

  5. 5
    Rob M on 22 Jun 2009 #

    The cards get reprinted in the fold out sleeve. I got this a few weeks ago and was pleased and pleasantly informed by Tom’s sleevenotes. Well done! Good CDs too.

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