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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Exploring Saint Etienne's 'Foxbase Beta' + Remembering The Kid Who Bought 'Alpha'

I'm listening to the commentary now on the second bonus disc on the limited edition of Saint Etienne's Foxbase Beta—the remixed version of their debut album, Foxbase Alpha.

If you're a Richard X fan, you really oughtta pick this up (if it's still available?), because he pretty much leads the conversation in the commentary on the second disc, Foxbase Extra! It's a bit surprising, since Richard X—to me, at least—always seemed like such a mysterious figure. I guess I just didn't know much about him other than his groovy mixes (Pet Shop Boys, etc.) and productions (Richard X Presents His X Factor, Annie, Liberty X, Sugababes).

I don't wanna go on about the commentary too much, but there's much to gleen from it—such as how much of a complete Etienne fan Richard X has been from day one, not to mention all the little stories and origins of certain tracks and between-song snippets.

Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs also revisit what it was like to be young guys exploring London for the first time, trying to make their first record. That's always been Saint Etienne's charm—at once revealing, while also building up, the mystery and allure of London.

I was 17 when I first bought Foxbase Beta on cassette (along with Bananarama's Pop Life) one Sunday afternoon in 1991 at Disc Jockey, at the local shopping mall in my hometown. There was a dance music radio station in Pittsburgh at the time that occasionally played "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," so the group was on my radar, I suppose.

Jumping to Foxbase Beta, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"—a song I rarely play in its original form now—is totally punched up with the full-on Richard X treatment.

I was driving the other morning when I heard this new version, and I gotta say—that's the best thing to be doing the first time you hear this:


Here, "Girl VII" and "Stoned To Say The Least" are given an equally adrenalin-quickening boost. "She's The One" sounds like classic Richard X. And "Carnt Sleep," while being completely overhauled, somehow retains its minimal, dreamy quality. Also, "Like The Swallow" just completely rawks.

I guess what surprised me was that there are only 13 tracks on Foxbase Beta. That "Kiss And Make Up" and "People Get Real" were never on the original U.K. version of Alpha was completely lost on me all these years! (Apparently they were recorded after the initial British album, but done in time for the U.S. release.)

Yes, this release is definitely worth grabbing for those asking for a review in the comments on my post from earlier this week. I believe only 3,000 of the two-disc version were pressed. Mine is #1909. Check out Saint Etienne.com to see if this one's still available.

If not, the single disc version is going to be made available at some point.

Last thing I wanna say is that with the advent now of album re-releases with commentary, it's often a music geek's dream to find out all the backstory.

But sometimes, there's still that 17-year-old in me stuck in his suburban bedroom, who prefers the unknown—and likes only being able to guess about the places and people these strangers are making music about.

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