Saint Etienne – ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’

❉ Sarah, Bob and Pete return with their most sample-heavy album since ‘So Tough’. 

Saint Etienne – ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’ cover art.

Released this Friday (10 September 2021), the new album from Saint Etienne is their tenth in the thirty years since Foxbase Alpha and follows on from the excellent album of four years ago, Home Counties. With an accompanying film by the South Yorkshire-born fashion photographer and filmmaker Alasdair McLellan (which recently debuted at the BFI and was conceived in a café below the clock tower in Shipley, West Yorkshire),  I’ve Been Trying to Tell You was recorded remotely by the three members of the band – Pete Wiggs in Oxford, Sarah Cracknell in Hove and Bob Stanley in Bradford, West Yorkshire along with help from  composer Gus Bousfield.

The album sounds unmistakably like Saint Etienne but is completely different in the way it was made and the way it sounds from their most recent work on Words and Music and Home Counties. Taking the “concept” of capturing the feel of the period of time between the New Labour government coming into power in May 1997 up to the “loss of innocence” of 9/11 the album’s production and use of samples from around that era create a special atmosphere across the eight tracks.

In the words of Bob Stanley – “To me it’s about optimism, and the late nineties and how memory is an unreliable narrator.”  According to Sarah Cracknell, “It’s the first sample-driven album we’ve made since So Tough and it’s been a really refreshing experience, such fun!”  “We’ve really pulled apart and dived deep into the samples” says Pete Wiggs.

Saint Etienne. Photo credit: Elaine Constantine.

The album opens with Music Again which has an evocative harpsichord sample from the Honeyz track Love Of A Lifetime and eerie evocative vocals from Sarah Cracknell over a drum beat that stops and starts and vocals that drift in and out creating a dream like quality.

Pond House (which has already been released as a taster for the album and film) has a “Here it comes again” vocal sample from the excellent Natalie Imbruglia song Beauty On The Fire and captures something of the production sounds of that late ‘90s/early 2000s era. It mixes this with trademark dub sounds and ends with the sound of seagulls. The atmosphere it creates reminds me of the recent Beautify Junkyards album Cosmorama.

Fonteyn (a reference to the dancer?) is sample-driven and has looped vocals from Sarah, sounding expansive and optimistic and ending in beautiful birdsong. Little K is also euphoric – a spoken word vocal over an instrumental backing track that sounds like church bells. It includes a sample from Samantha Mumba’s Til The Night Becomes The Day.  The fractured spoken word lyrics are also ambiguous to my ear. “In my (revelry/reverie?) …the (wind/mind?) will carry me”?

Saint Etienne. Photo credit: Elaine Constantine.

The excellent Blue Kite leads into I Remember it Well with its ‘found sounds’ that sound like clips from an old family tape recording, disembodied classic guitar riff and Twin Peaks-esque backwards voice playbacks.

Penlop is another strong track which has been issued as the second  video and song taster for the album and film. It’s a haunting tune over the repeated lyric “I don’t really know you/but I’d like to show you/Chester Town/ we went all around.”

The album ends with Broad River with fragmented vocals again and a sample from Bradford singer/songwriter Tasmin Archer’s Ripped inside.   It ends on the haunting and melancholic lyric, “A love like this… again”. Give this excellent album a listen and let the sounds soak into you.

❉ Saint Etienne – ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’ due 10th September via Heavenly Recordings. A number of formats can be pre-ordered here.Rough Trade has made ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’ their Album of the Month for September and will offer an exclusive sky blue vinyl edition with a three track remix CD with mixes by Daniel Avery, Jane Weaver and Vince Clarke here

❉ The film ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’ is available to watch online via the BFI’s streaming service BFI Player and in selected UK cinemas from 3rd September, with cinema screenings being accompanied by a specially recorded interview with Bob Stanley and Alastair McLellen, conducted by the BFI’s Stuart Brown. A selection of shorts including Finisterre, This is Tomorrow and What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? will also be available to stream  on BFI Player from 3rd September.

❉ Saint Etienne: Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | Spotify | Bandcamp

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

Images courtesy Bang On PR. Photo credit Elaine Constantine

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