“Nothing Can Stop Us” from the 1991 album “Foxbase Alpha.”
I’m going to experiment a bit with today’s post. When you write enough of these things, you tend to back yourself into a corner of formula and repetition. So today, I’m changing it up by sticking the embed up top. I know, not the most groundbreaking idea. But hear me out.
Although my intentions are always to talk about one song in particular, I’ve been veering off into additional selections lately, before actually tackling my original intended track. It’s been happening a lot. By proposing this not-quite groundbreaking new way, I can get my initial thoughts taken care of up front. So when the tangents come, there won’t be any confusion, potential or otherwise, as to where I started. So here we go …
As you’ll see above, I’m setting the time machine for 1991, when little known U.K. trio Saint Etienne debuted this breezy ’60s-styled Euro-pop single “Nothing Can Stop Us.” This one was actually their third single, the first being “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” which tacked on a slight dub and reggae vibe to their vintage stylings.
“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” from the 1991 album “Foxbase Alpha.”
At the time, the U.K. music scene had already given us acid house, the Madchester scene, shoegaze, and dream-pop, with the rise of Brit-pop firmly in full-swing. Saint Etienne shuffled into that mix with a feathery flashback of the nostalgic swinging ’60s, or at least what I would’ve imagine that to be.
I don’t go that far back, so I can only conjure the sights and sounds that the cultural archives have preserved for posterity’s sake. Although, I think if it wasn’t “Breathless,” which painted an indelible yet serious portrait of the era, albeit the start, then I’d say “Austin Powers” gave just the right dose of the wrong impression.
That said, I was very much alive and quite busy during Saint Etienne’s debut years. It was back during my music journalism days, and it was a record label request to interview frontwoman Sarah Cracknell. I was young and naïve, and probably asked a lot of foolish questions. But I got on great with her, and forever had a college crush from that day forward.
So that’s my Saint Etienne backstory. And it’s pretty much what comes to mind when I hear “Nothing Can Stop Us.” That’s my nostalgia for a song already inspired by the free-spirited days of peace, love, and all things not war.
Thankfully, after all these years, Saint Etienne are still around, touring the live venues and crafting new tunes, their latest album being 2017’s “Home Counties.” I actually caught them during this tour, but Cracknell caught that flu that was going around SoCal at the time. I mean, everyone had it. And if you didn’t, you were marked for it. But she was a real trooper and did the show anyway. And despite a few forgivable coughs, which she eventually suppressed with a stiff drink or two, they pulled off a great show.
Here’s a clip of “Like a Motorway,” one of my favorite tracks from Saint Etienne. The footage quality is a few years old, so it ain’t gonna blow your mind. But it’s a nice little glimpse into the recent past with some semi-decent audio. And like I said, Cracknell was performing while sick, so take that under consideration.
Saint Etienne perform “Like a Motorway” at the Fonda on 10.06.17.
And of course, the original …
“Like a Motorway” from the 1994 album “Tiger Bay.”
Since the early days, Saint Etienne’s sound has evolved quite a bit, all in favorable and mature directions, notably folding in post-acid house grooves that were prominent in the electronic scene during their early years. In fact, they’ve done it so well that much of their ’90s output helped pave the foundation for today’s modern indie dance music.
Still, that ’60s free-spirited pop has continued to remain a core value, often front and center. A great example of this is another favorite from the era, as well as the very same album, “Tiger Bay,” that produced “Like a Motorway.” The song’s an entirely instrumental offering called “Cool Kids of Death,” and it’s about as hip and groovy as its title suggests.
“Cool Kids of Death” from the 1994 album “Tiger Bay.”
I’m going to switch decades to 2012 for this dubby trip-hop affair titled “Filthy,” which actually appeared as a B-side to the single “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” when B-sides were still a thing. Let’s call it a forgotten classic, which gets a proper release on the 2012 “greatest hits” compilation “London Conversations.” That’s a bit of re-writing history, but I think it’s okay.
“Filthy” actually features vocals from Q-Tee, who was a teenage female rapper back in the day. So it’s got a bit of hip-hop rolling around its swampy psychedelic guitar swirl and deep dub bass caverns. It’s a bit of a lost gem, and one which offered a prophetic sneak-peek into what would eventually follow from this trio. I say that in context to it’s original ’93 release.
“Filthy” from the 2012 release “London Conversations.” Originally released as a B-side to 1993’s single “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”
I’m going to bring things to a close with a recent effort from 2017’s “Home Counties” called “Dive.” This one’s a funky, lively, soulful effort, which has a punchy chorus that seems like a samba clash with disco flash. Plus, there’s these little kaleidoscopic glimpses of psychedelic flourish peppered throughout. Combined with its energetic percussive rhythm, “Dive” makes for an appropriate culmination of a career that’s run near 3 decades
I’m starting with the Fonda show footage before the embed, because my first experience really came from seeing it performed live. Admittedly, I wasn’t all that familiar with “Home Counties,” other than a cursory listen. I was mainly at the show to see the oldies, as I’m sure many others were. So anything beyond that was pure icing on the cake.
Same footage rules apply here, mixed A/V quality, the flu, and an older mobile phone camera. Not sure if this clip offers the justice it deserves, but nonetheless, here it is.
Saint Etienne perform “Dive” at the Fonda on 10.06.17.
The proper studio recording …
“Dive” from the 2017 album “Home Counties.”
And to cap it all off, I’m going to leave you with a couple more clips from that Fonda show, returning to the initial focus of this post, “Nothing Can Stop Us,” and their first single, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” Enjoy!
Saint Etienne perform “Nothing Can Stop Us” at the Fonda on 10.06.17.
Saint Etienne perform “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” at the Fonda on 10.06.17.