SAINT ETIENNE – “How We Used To Live” (CD Single)
Do let’s be beastly to the Germans. To Rococo Rot (and Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas) assume production duties on Saint Etienne’s comeback epic and the beat promptly goes phut – not surprising since To Rococo Rot have built a career out of politely avoiding anything that might even remotely be classed as a ‘drum sound’. The problem is, though, that the more disco Saint Etienne are, they better they are: Sarah Cracknell’s voice is just too wispy to do the business over backing tracks this vaporous. The impeccably tasteful touches O’Hagan applies – for the first half of the track he manages to turn the band into a Llamas clone – kill interest even more surely.

“How We Used To Live” looked good on paper – great title, nine minutes long, mmmm (think “Avenue”). It looked good in the shop, too – a bucolic village green vision promising a ruralised take on the kind of ache Saint Etienne’s best ballads have always managed to conjure (think “Hobart Paving”). And after 1998’s Good Humour, the band seemed to have hit form again with the curious, minimal Places To Visit. But this new single is desperately disappointing: incoherent, prissy and unengaging, the lyrics as sleek and distancing as the music. For a minute or two in the middle things get more exciting, but it’s not enough. The seeds of something – some heartbreak odyssey of English longing, some jubilant celebration of English escape – may be there, but it never gels, and the thin melody can’t on its own turn the song into the landmark it wants to be. An opportunity badly missed.