[16] Saint Etienne, ‘Tonight’

Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne are eating themselves, singing about the joy and anticipation of seeing their favourite band, of seeing themselves. Self-mythologising, London-mythologising, pop-mythologising. They’re so far into their navel, they’re sending shivers up their own spine.

And mine. I mean, look at this place, constantly turning over the past. This kind of pop nostalgia is catnip. Obviously, Saint Etienne’s celebration of that pre-gig buzz could apply to bands now, but “maybe they’ll open with… a top five hit”? Does anyone think like that now? You probably know exactly what they’re going to play by aggregating setlist.fm stats.

This did nothing for the girls, who scrapped over a toy ladybird. Junior admitted she liked the beat, but she wasn’t captivated by the feeling or the propulsive synth wash. Perhaps she’ll get fuzzy about this in a couple of decades.

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[20] LCD Soundsystem, ‘Bye Bye Bayou’

IT STRUCK ME that 2009 wasn’t a sparkling year for singles – until I started trying to compile a Top 20. Then it was heartbreaking. So, regret and recriminations to Eels’ ‘That Look You Give That Guy’, Saint Etienne’s ‘Method Of Modern Love’ and Fuck Buttons’ ‘Surf Solar’. It hurt, but you had to go.

Let’s cheer up with the long-(well a couple of years at least)-awaited return of James Murphy and his so hip they’re actually hip and not just what hip people think is hip quasi-band LCD Soundsystem. Here he turns Suicide’s Alan Vega’s psychotic rockabilly screecher ‘Bye Bye Bayou’ into – let’s face it – Underworld’s ‘Mmm Skyscraper I Love You’ and the results are absorbing, bracing and head-nodding.

Junior was all primed for the year-end countdown, holding out for some Girls Aloud and sharpening her critical faculties (these are usually her shoulders; they’re the litmus test). The title amused – she and her sister changed it to “bye-bye, you” with plenty of waving – but then the bombshell: “I don’t like it”. Oh. Murphy rescued it with a zappy sound effect at the end which “makes my ears go crazy. And my legs. And my socks.” If he can crazify socks, he’ll go far.

Is that all right Bayou?

2009 Top 20 Singles?

We did this about this time last year, so why change a vaguely popular feature? These are the Top 20 Most Played 2009 Singles on the ever-honest iPod:

[1] Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Zero’
[2] Dananananaykroyd, ‘Black Wax’
[3] The Horrors, ‘Sea Within A Sea’
[4] Passion Pit, ‘The Reeling’
[5] Animal Collective, ‘My Girls’
[6] James Yuill, ‘No Surprise’
[7] Sunny Day Sets Fire, ‘Adrenaline’
[8] TV On The Radio, ‘Dancing Choose’
[9] Frankmusik, ‘Better Off As Two’
[10] Röyksopp featuring Robyn, ‘Girl And The Robot’
[11] Jamie T, ‘Sticks ‘n’ Stones’
[12] Coldplay, ‘Life In Technicolor ii’
[13] U2, ‘Magnificent’
[14] The Phantom Band, ‘The Howling’
[15] Eg, ‘Broken’
[16] Junior Boys, ‘Hazel’
[17] Lily Allen, ‘The Fear’
[18] Fischerspooner, ‘Supply & Demand’
[19] Saint Etienne, ‘Method Of Modern Love’
[20] Red Light Company, ‘Arts & Crafts’

But will it bear any resemblance to the year-end chart? Be sure to check in 18 or 19 weeks.

Little Boots, ‘New In Town’/Saint Etienne, ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’

Little Boots
Saint Etienne

*Tap, tap* Is this thing working? One, two, one, two. “When you were yooooouuuung…”

There’s something in the air. Music goes in cycles, doesn’t it? I’m hoping you’ve got some evidence, because I’m whistling in the wind here. Strikes me, though, that the ’91 feeling is abroad, that Balearic’s back, that everything from rock to dance and all grimy stop-offs in between is daubed in pop, in that cred-shedding musical vernacular that makes all good records sound like hits.

Little Boots is exercising her sunny beats just as Saint Etienne are once more hawking Foxbase Alpha around to anyone who’ll listen – mainly 36 year olds who were there the first time, but perhaps a few Boots fans will jump on board too. Victoria Hesketh (er, yeah, Little Boots) is a lovely breathy singer like Sarah Cracknell, a cooing frontwoman for some capital dance-pop grooves and a poster-girl-in-waiting for the shy end of the indie boy spectrum. It’s a link of sorts!

Junior’s no shy indie boy, but she’s sweet on Victoria: “I love her singing, I love the picture.” There’s a story behind Saint Etienne, however, and she wants to hear about how she “saw” them at Koko a few weeks before she was, erm, born. “Was I dancing in Mummy’s tummy?” I rather think she was.

New In Town:

Only Love Can Break Your Heart:

[18] The Go! Team, ‘Ladyflash’

The Go! Team

This sounds like Saint Etienne and The Cookie Crew getting down and raspy in a tin can. Whether that’s the acest thing out or an utter cacophony is entirely up to you.

As for Junior, she walked like an Egyptian to the first drifting bars then threw a tantrum about putting on her shoes. Let’s say she hasn’t made up her mind.

We came here to rock the microphone:

[8] Kylie Minogue, ‘Confide In Me’

So Kylie fled the suffocating grip of Stock Aitken Waterman to find credibility, dance chops and, ultimately, zero record sales with then ultra-cool label Deconstruction. Everything looked rosy with ‘Confide In Me’ – all melodrama, crunchy beats and Top 3 success – and a decent album followed, only with diminishing returns. I worked at Deconstruction for one whole day as the album was being released, and made off with tons of promo material including a semi-lifesize (well, you can never tell with the Kylester) cardboard cut-out that my brother now owns. It was small recompense for spending eight hours sending out M People 12”s.

My own diminutive pop star claimed to “like Kylie” and admired the glossy CD booklet. At first she had it confused with the Saint Etienne CD also on the desk, which is quite the coincidence – ‘Confide In Me’’s B-side was a cover of the Ets’ ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’. Even more thrilling, the, er, other B-side was a cover of Prefab Sprout’s ‘If You Don’t Love Me’. Truly a potted history of pristine pop.

[12] Jamie T, ‘Calm Down Dearest’

Jamie T, ‘Calm Down Dearest’

Wimbledon’s premier rap-skiffle rodent had a big year, what with that Mercury nomination (and he really should have won – or did I say that about Bat For Lashes? Anyway, Panic Prevention was wildly inventive, clever and fun) and a packed John Peel tent singing along to this track at Glastonbury. His range is clearest on ‘Calm Down Dearest’, which sounds like Saint Etienne’s ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ sung by a particularly verbose drunkard. It’s even better than I paint it.
 
It was greeted with stomping feet by Junior, who also chose to mirror the lyrics with a snarly face. Has she seen the lad? It was uncanny. She threw all this into the first couple of bars, missing the later subtleties of Treays’ affecting semi-ballad – “racking and stacking them lines” – subtleties that fair bring a tear to a wincing eye.

[3] Saint Etienne, ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’

Saint Etienne

This was the first self-penned Saint Etienne single, and their manifesto in a nutshell. A breezy mix of Northern Soul, French pop sounds, harmonica, skipping groove, woodwind and lovestruck optimism, it’s impossible to resist. Again, I think it was my age, but this summed up the time for me. A summer when not even the ubiquitous spectre of Bryan Adams could shroud the boundless possibilities before us. No, the fug of alcohol and cigarettes took care of that.

London’s finest are a hardy perennial, in spite of some dicey moments in the mid to late 90s when pursuit of cred threatened to swamp the tunes. Their last three albums are pop gold, fulfilling all of Foxbase Alpha’s promise with a dash of maturity. Pity that hits continue to elude them.

Still, this song’s a big favourite with mum, dad and nipper alike. Junior launched herself right out of the ring, such was her giddy joy. I think I’ve mentioned that Saint Etienne were her first gig, her heavily pregnant mum braving Koko’s swish interiors. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they were her pop yardstick.

[All my vinyl rips seem to have corrupted; Top 11 mp3s to follow… later]

[5] Annie, ‘Heartbeat’

Annie from Norway was the first artist Junior saw live. The second was Saint Etienne, about half an hour later. Junior was minus three weeks old at the time but, with poetic licence, I can imagine that she was watching through her mum’s bellybutton. I’ve never asked her what she thought of Annie. I thought she was rubbish. You could barely hear the vocals and she spent her whole set standing at the back of the stage with the bloke who was making all the music come out of his computer.

On record Annie makes sense. Her voice is still wafer-thin but every song is an icy pop gem, with all those keyboard pulses, strokes and effects and crisp percussion, and that Scandinavian ear for a hook. She sounds flimsy in the old Camden Palais; in the living room she shimmers like the Christmas tree.

The fifth best single of the year, ‘Heartbeat’ sees Junior flying around the room, laughing, dribbling in her dad’s eye. No, I’m not crying at Annie’s tender memories of a fleeting love. I’ve got dribble in my eye.