In the five years since 2012’s Words And Music, where they deconstructed the experience of being a pop fan through the medium of brilliant, sparkling pop, the three members of Saint Etienne have been taking some time to focus on other projects.
There was Sarah Cracknell’s contemplative solo album Red Kite, Bob Stanley’s mammoth Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop and the band’s fourth collaboration with the filmmaker Paul Kelly, the stunning How We Used To Live, written by Stanley with author Travis Elborough and scored by Pete Wiggs.
It’s hardly been an absence, then, but the arrival earlier this month of the band’s ninth studio album still felt like a welcome return: a suburban early-summer’s amble through the Home Counties of Cracknell, Stanley and Wiggs’ own pasts.
As pop connoisseurs and archive-rummagers extraordinaires – as the ongoing Songs For… series and Wiggs and Stanley’s excellent Ace Records compilation English Weather (2017) have shown – it’s odd that the band hadn’t yet provided musicOMH with a list of the records that have shaped their musical lives. But all that is about to change, so sit back, grab “a cigarette, a cup of tea, a bun…” and lose yourself in Saint Etienne’s This Music Made Me.
// Sarah Cracknell
Tyrannosaurus Rex – Prophets, Seers & Sages The Angels Of The Ages
My Mum had this record and although she didn’t really listen to it much I discovered it and played it to death on her old Philips Disc Jockey Junior!
With Marc Bolan on vocals and guitar and Steve Peregrin Took on bongos, African drums, kazoo, pixie phone and Chinese gong (what is a pixie phone??) it sounded pretty bonkers and also brilliantly naive and childlike.
Fantastic pop songs in a stripped back form and of course the insanely talented Marc who I have been a life long fan of. I did steal the feather boa idea from him!
I ordered in advance, and bought, the 1986 release of Fruit Tree from Revolution Records in Windsor for my friend Mick’s birthday.
It’s a beautiful four-LP Box Set and made a great pressie! We shared a flat in Old Windsor at the time, we’d just boomeranged back from London, and we didn’t go out much because we were pretty broke so these records became the soundtrack to our brief time back in the home counties.
Fabulous melancholy and a warm and light vocal that is truly heavenly.
This is my favourite Cocteaus album and Elizabeth Fraser was one of my biggest influences.
I loved her soaring, etheral style of singing and especially loved the fact that she made up most of the words she sang, I imagined she didn’t wanted to be restricted in what she was trying to put across with mere vocabulary. I got to meet and hang out with her and Robin Guthrie not long after this record came out with my friend Lawrence from Felt, I was proper awestruck!
I remember they drove us somewhere in their beautiful Citroen DS, just like the French police cars from the ’60s, all hydraulic suspension and beautiful lines, I think it was green! Favourite song has to be Lorelei.
// Pete Wiggs
I was blown away when I first heard this record.
It was a perfect mix of elements: beautiful melodies and string arrangements, odd song structures, west coast psych with tinges of jazz. The lyrics were evocative and managed to combine wisdom and beauty with the madcap and bizarre.
My wife called me up once when she was a chef and said: “Guess who I just cooked dinner for?” It was Arthur Lee, I was too freaked out to meet him but he signed a copy of the album for me.
This is my probably my favourite Fall album, chock full of classics. If you include the singles that came out around it (as the expanded edition does) then it gets even better.
Rough and spontaneous feeling, it sounds to me like pubs and function rooms rather than studios.
Mark E Smith is a genius of delivery his lyrics acerbic, observational, funny and eminently quotable.
Ennio Morricone – Mondo Morricone
This is the first of a couple of compilations that came out in the late ’90s.
I’d always liked Morricone’s Spaghetti western soundtracks and the Mission, but this opened the door to a greater appreciation of his music. Massively influential on our songwriting and film stuff.
He really understands ‘pop’ and is a master of blending orchestral and rock/jazz instruments.
// Bob Stanley
The Shadows – 20 Golden Greats
My parents had a Shadows 45, FBI, when I was a kid. I used to wonder what FBI stood for.
My dad tried to explain, but all I remember is something about men in suits with shiny shoes and Hitchcock films. Anyway, it seemed very mysterious; being instrumental it left a lot to a child’s imagination, and the Shadows’ name only added to the mystery.
I bought this album when I was 11 or 12, I think it was the same year Never Mind The Bollocks came out. Hank Marvin’s guitar tone is alternatively beautiful and thrilling, very pure.
Richard Harris – The Yard Went On Forever
This is Jimmy Webb’s masterpiece. I love the run of singles he did with Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Where’s The Playground Susie – which are Americana in the truest sense, evocative and hyper-real.
But they didn’t record an album together at the time. This album is like a 35 minute version of Macarthur Park – it references iron boards and frying pans, and it’s a concept album about divorce, with an actor with a ‘unique’ voice doing the vocals.
It’s a perfect mix of the awkward and the commercial, pushing pop music to its limits.
I remember seeing a poster of the Human League in Smash Hits and they looked nothing like a 1980s pop group. Synthesisers and Phil Oakey’s hair aside, there was a slide of The Man From UNCLE projected behind them, and one of them had a beard. It looked like a science experiment.
As with the Richard Harris album, I loved the super-catchy melodies combined with the occasional bit of atonal synth noise and Oakey’s lyrics about dying radio stations (WXJL Tonight) and records so popular they swallow the world (The Black Hit Of Space).
Plus there was the Gordon’s Gin advert. Art and commerce!
Saint Etienne’s Home Counties is out now through Heavenly. Tour dates and further information can be found here.