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May 15

ALL SAINTS – “Black Coffee”

Popular69 comments • 4,251 views

#876, 14th October 2000

saintscoffee All Saints’ final number one is their most oblique, their most grown-up, also their finest. The song barely glances at its title – a pair of words out of a hundred in the lyric – but the whole record is a glance or a quiet smile, a celebration of tiny satisfactions, and of finding yourself with someone who conjures them so easily. “Each moment is cool / freeze the moment”. It’s a song, most of it, about feeling contented – a rare subject for pop, which prefers to nose out conflict (the video finds some anyway, staging “Black Coffee” as a post-Matrix bullet time break-up drama). There are songs – cousins to this, like “I Say A Little Prayer” – that capture the way love makes the everyday blush with significance, but “Black Coffee” is after something more comfortable. A day with your lover, as casually sweet as all the other ones. Nothing’s perfect, but “Black Coffee”’s rippling, overlapping melody lines make even the quarrels sound blissful.

It’s a lovely record, two late 90s takes on pop meshing and peaking: All Saints’ idea of a British female harmony group, and William Orbit’s gorgeous dissolve of pop into ambient bubbles and flows. (Both now disappear: All Saints split, to largely unsuccessful ends; Orbit, jilted by his primary collaborator, stepped back from the charts.) The combination, as on “Pure Shores”, is irresistibly of its time: unlike that record, “Black Coffee” isn’t pure escapism. Around the edges of this playful song snaps another, one with a harder bite. The opening and breakdown of “Black Coffee” – crunching drums, radar synths – is like a more unforgiving world which our couple spend the mid-song cocooning themselves away from.

The snap and turn of those opening beats makes me think of catwalk photography; the video feels more like a magazine shoot than a relationship. Probably more than anyone since the early 80s, All Saints were a band who felt like they belonged in fashion, a style press imagining of what pop could be like. They always looked the part, but often the music strained too hard to live up to its references. Finally, with the Orbit collaborations, they got there, and “Black Coffee” is the greatest realisation of the All Saints concept – their most perfectly glossy exterior, and only warmth inside.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Phil on 21 May 2015 #

    “Baby, instant soup doesn’t really grab me today,
    I need something more sub, stub, sub, substantial –
    A can of beans, some black eyed peas, some Nescafe on ice,
    A candy bar, a falling star or a reading from Dr Seuss”

    We might need to start another category for that one.

  2. 52
    Steve Mannion on 21 May 2015 #

    And from Fuzzbox’s…deathless ‘Pink Sunshine’:

    “Gun metal sunrise sees you ragged round the edge
    you turn around both of them sleep away
    coffee and toast-you’re back from the dead”

    NB googled, only that last line may be accurate

  3. 53
    Kinitawowi on 21 May 2015 #

    The coffee and toast combination in particular seems oddly popular…

    “If you come back to my house
    I’ll make some coffee and some toast”

    Thank you James, for what might be the most uninspiring invitation ever.

  4. 54
    Ophir Zemer on 21 May 2015 #

    Put another log in the fire for me, I’ve made some breakfast and coffee

  5. 55
    Brendan F on 21 May 2015 #

    the lip ring on a half filled cup of coffee that you poured and didn’t drink – Good Year for the Roses

  6. 56
    wichitalineman on 21 May 2015 #

    I thought the original conversation upthread was about coffee as a signifier of break-ups, bad news and misery – as in Good Year For The Roses or Mike & the Mechanics’ Another Cup Of Coffee (great song).

    If it’s about hot beverages in pop generally, I’ve always admired Roy Harper’s Another Day for its incredibly mundane opening line (“The kettle’s on, the sun has gone, another day”), used as the prelude to an uncomfortable meeting between former lovers who still fancy each other.

    (Even though he is offered “Tibetan tea on a flower tray” rather than coffee).

  7. 57
    Phil on 21 May 2015 #

    I think we identified four main groups of coffee-related songs – coffee seems to symbolise the mundane & everyday in three of them, but the mundane is variously associated with contentment (this one), stagnation (the St Etienne one) and break-up (GYFTR). The fourth group are basically about sobering up. Then there’s The Sidewinder… which is about God knows what.

    Incidentally, Stephin Merritt appears never to have mentioned coffee in a song, If a search on Stephinsongs is to be believed.

  8. 58

    The earliest coffee-related song i’ve so far found via google is the 1928 “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” (music Ray Henderson, lyrics Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown) from the Broadway musical Hold Everything! I seriously doubt it is the first — I just haven’t thought of a quick way of hunting such things down.

  9. 59

    No wait, the earliest song i’ve so far found via google to mention coffee is stephen foster’s angelina baker (1850): “She can’t do hard work because she is not stout/She bakes her biscuits every day, and pours the coffee out/CHORUS: Angeline the baker, her age is 43/I bought her candy by the peck, and she won’t marry me

  10. 60
    Stevie T on 21 May 2015 #

    1734: https://youtu.be/YC5KpmK6oOs

    If I can’t drink
    my bowl of coffee three times daily,
    then in my torment I will shrivel up
    like a piece of roast goat.

  11. 61
    Mark G on 21 May 2015 #

    #56 funnily enough, I’d nominate Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel’s performance of “Another Day” as the most miserable duet of modern times. Entirely in context, of course.

  12. 62
    lonepilgrim on 21 May 2015 #

    not sure what category ‘Starfish and coffee’ by Prince falls into

  13. 63
    innit on 21 May 2015 #

    As usual Natalie Appleton’s vocal talents are ignored. she makes the song.

  14. 64
    Paulito on 21 May 2015 #

    In ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’, Joe Jackson’s reference to this ubiquitous beverage helps to conjure a scene of everyday frustration. Joe’s coffee slowly cools at his side, neglected, as he gawps incredulously out his window at passing lovelies and their Neanderthal consorts.

  15. 65
    Chelovek na lune on 22 May 2015 #

    “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee”

  16. 66
    ace inhibitor on 22 May 2015 #

    “I drank a jar full of coffee, and I took some of these!”

  17. 67
    Phil on 22 May 2015 #

    From what I know of MES’s lifestyle, that is a celebration of the mundane and everyday.

  18. 68
    Ophir Zemer on 22 May 2015 #

    There’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream and a lack of real spice in your life

  19. 69
    Tom McKennan on 12 Mar 2016 #

    The Guardian is advertising an interview on the All Saints reunion describing them as ‘pop rebels’. (annoyingly I can’t find it to link) Needless to say there are scores of old punks spitting feathers at the description but for all that it did strike me as odd: It’s not a label I’d ever have stuck on them. Was rebellion part of the package with All Saints? Grown-up, classy sophistication surely? I was never a fan so I’m quite prepared to imagine I’ve missed something.

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