dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why Saint Etienne Can Never Rack Up A Hit (And Why It Doesn't Matter)

So, Saint Etienne's first single (not counting last fall's Xenomania mix EP of oldie "Burnt Out Car") in three years, "Method Of Modern Love," was released last week and debuted on the U.K. chart at the sideways-smile emoticon position of #56.

MOML gave international fans of the trio a bit of a headache, as those wanting to secure a physical copy were met with the CD single only being dispatched to buyers with a U.K. address. Then there were the various downloads available...also only to English buyers.

Adding to the fanfare anticlimax, there was also no video and no major radio play in Old Blighty for "Method."

But, let's face it; Saint Etienne have surely given up on any aspirations of ever-elusive chart glory after 19 years. Yes, it's nice when your favorite bands dent the Top 10 now and then, especially when they've been slogging away at it for this long.

Hell, I was in London the day the Pet Shop Boys made it to #10 with "Miracles," and I wanted to kiss the nearest homeless woman I could find in joy!

However, Saint Etienne have always been the underdog. The wayward Balearic bastards of the Britpop movement. Jarvis Cocker dragged Pulp out of a decade-long bout of obscurity and pulled six consecutive Top 10 singles out of his bony arse while Oasis, Blur and Suede bitch-slapped each other to the top of the charts in the early-to-mid-'90s.

All the while, Saint Etienne, who once had Oasis opening for them on tour, scraped to #12 with their classic "You're In A Bad Way." Two years later, they bested that by hitting #11 with "He's On The Phone," a Motiv8-produced track that is the closest they've got to a giddy pop predecessor to "Method Of Modern Love."

But the only real time the threesome cracked the U.K. Top 10 was when Sarah Cracknell guested on Paul Van Dyk's 2000 dance track, "Tell Me Why (The Riddle)." With a "featuring Saint Etienne" credit, that technically got the band a #7 hit.

Cracknell herself came close to the Top 10 again last year by singing atop Mark Brown's "The Journey Continues." Alas, like "He's On The Phone," that single peaked at #11.

Saint Etienne were written off by their original fans for abandoning their dance sound, and slagged off by Britpop fans for being Johnny-come-latelys. But show me an artist who's lasted as long that hasn't hopped on a current bandwagon du jour at least once or twice?

I don't care. I like my Saint Etienne being the underdog. Because, really, as pop fans, we all kind of know what it's like being the underdog. I like "Avenue" and "Shower Scene" as much as I like "He's On The Phone" and "Sylvie."

And I defy Girls Aloud, Lady GaGa or Rihanna to come close to breaking my heart the way "Hobart Paving," "Like A Motorway" or "Teenage Winter" still do with each listen.

Looking back—or, rather, listening back—over SE's catalogue, I'm proud to have bean a fan from the beginning. If pop truly can be art, then, for me, this is it.

I bought Foxbase Alpha on cassette at Disc Jockey in Spring 1991, and I ordered the two-CD/DVD London Conversations: The Best Of Saint Etienne from Amazon UK today. (It's on sale!)

And I'll be in it till the end. Saint Etienne have always been there for my savage amusement, putting a spell over me...and smelling like lemon flavor.



  • At 4:21 PM, Blogger Andrew said…

    MOML is truly an epic song. It is one of the best pop songs i have heard in a long time. Richard X has really stepped up his game lately. I believe it all started with Annie's album, and then came this amazing song. Now, i cannot wait for his collaboration with Sophie Ellis-Bextor!

  • At 5:31 PM, Blogger Poster Girl said…

    D'luv, tell me some company's snapped you up already...because when you write things like this, it'd be crazy for you to remain jobless for more than a second.

  • At 5:58 PM, Blogger John said…

    I believe the sign of a true pop music fan is not someone that listens to the radio and buys CDs, but who really is passionate about certain artists that speak to them as a person AND a music fan. Your status in this group was already solidified prior to this post, but now, I'm pretty sure you're an officer in our treehouse club. Thanks for the great post.

  • At 6:28 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    That was beautiful, D'Luv. Beautiful enough to make this jaded forever-fan go ahead and pre-order London Conversations, which will be about the fifth greatest hits of theirs in my collection. Hell, they deserve it.

  • At 6:57 PM, Blogger xolondon said…

    Ditto. SE are far too elegant and erudite to appease the mall kids.

    And I love that you always recall all these funny record store names like Disc Jockey. We should make a huge list of now dead record stores.

  • At 8:54 PM, Anonymous RadioCremeBrulee said…

    "If pop truly can be art, then, for me, this is it." - Very well said and quite an accurate evaluation of Saint Etienne's music. Also part of the reason I couldn't really get in to all their music (sorry, I ain't exactly the most artsy person around). That being said, I think "Method Of Modern Love" is a fantastic song. It has been playing 8-9 times per day since early February on the radio station that I manage.

  • At 9:20 PM, Blogger countpopula said…

    Have to agree about the love for this song and this band. As a fellow American, you know how hard it is following a band's career such as this. I think we are lifers in Etienne fandom, which certainly means more than chart position. Hopefully the band realize the rolling phases of this release are causing confusion among fans about how to get their hands on Et's package (ahem). Could it be more difficult? Maybe we'll get them a notch higher when we are allowed to purchase a copy.


    Every time I think you are simply smut-tastic, you go and pull something revelatory out of your ass like this! Truly inspired, and I can see why you have been hired for your writing skills. You will find something again--the cream will rise, so to speak...

    I think you're rubbing off on me...

  • At 4:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    *Another* SE compilation? Um....

    That said, I did manage to get MOML on iTunes o the bf's UK account, so am thrilled that I helped propel them to dizzy heights of 56.

    PSB next...

  • At 6:42 AM, Blogger Paul said…

    D'Luv it was you who turned me on. er, to St Etienne, and got me sniffling over their glorious tunes. Many of my favourite acts don't really dent the charts any more but as long as they keep churning out music that lifts and inspires me, then I'll be quite quite happy.

  • At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    nice blog


Post a Comment

<< Home