Sarah Cracknell’s one and only solo album has had a somewhat chequered life. Originally released in 1997, poor sales saw its American release be delayed by nearly 3 years. It eventually surfaced across the Atlantic with a totally different tracklisting, but perhaps unsurprisingly in an era which was dominated by Britney Spears’ brand of pop, the quietier and more understated approach of Cracknell sank without trace.
Long since deleted, Lipslide now reappears as part of the extensive reissue campaign that Saint Etienne embarked on several years ago. As with the band’s albums, Lipslide comes with a bonus disc of extra material, which consists of tracks from the US edition, some tracks from the Kelly’s Locker EP, and some demo tracks.
Unsurprisingly, Lipslide is likely to appeal to fans of Saint Etienne, especially their early, winsome pop days. Although most tracks are synth-based, there’s the odd nod to divas like Dusty Springfield, especially on the gorgeous swoon of an opening track Ready Or Not, or the closing string-drenched swing of Can’t Stop Now. The presence of no less than 11 producers and co-writers could hint at a rather unfocused album, but with names like Stephen Hague and Ian Catt involved, Lipslide was never going to be less than listenable.
Catt’s presence in particular helps Lipslide sound almost like a bonus Saint Etienne album. Catt was a touring member of the band, and helps to recreate their trademark sound of being upbeat while also sounding vaguely melancholy. Coastal Town and Taxi are both terrific retro pop while Taking Off For France (co-written with former Altered Images man Stephen Lironi) is a wistful little gem.
Occasionally, Lipslide slides into filler territory, with Desert Baby sounding a bit too generic to make any real impression, while Cracknell’s voice never really strays from a pleasant mid-register. That’s not really a complaint, just an acknowledgement that many tracks, especially when listening over two discs worth of material, sometimes tend to blend into one another.
In all honesty, the second disc is a bit of a fan-only curio, especially when it comes to the demo versions, and there’s no real need to have a slightly different and inferior version of Home included. However, there is the odd treasure to be found on the second disc, with the gloriously lush Aussie Soap Girl and the lovely piano ballad of Julie Don’t You Worry real standouts.
Lipslide doesn’t quite measure up to Saint Etienne’s best work – the arch, knowing humour of Stanley and Wiggs is missed for one thing, and the songs aren’t quite as memorable. While probably not an essential purchase for all but the collector, it makes for an enjoyable snapshot of Cracknell’s career as the ’90s drew to a close.