Album Review: I've Been Trying to Tell You by Saint Etienne
Very Good, Based on 4 Critics
musicOMH.com - 80 Based on rating 4
Do you remember 1997? The period between that and 2001? The time between the Labour election victory and 9/11 are probably the headline bookmarks, but it's also worth noting it's almost the same distance between other significant cultural milestones - I Know Where It's At and 21 Seconds; Be Here Now and Is This It. Or maybe the deaths of Princess Diana and Aaliyah; the end of Eurotrash and the start of Electroclash. A post-Spiceworld wasteland where Westlife moped on stools and became the nation's most popular entertainers, and Radiohead, sat there in the background taking everything far too seriously.
Offsetting hopeful low tempo beats with borrowed R&B samples and field recordings, the record tiptoes on the edge of being dreamlike. Saint Etienne 's focus is so clear that if you close your eyes, you can almost feel the soft summer breeze of the pre-internet era, a time ravaged by tabloids and the dawn of reality TV. The album is tied together by ambient pop.
In his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks samples the following quote from biologist Gerald Edelman: "Every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination." For 30 years now, British pop heroes Saint Etienne have made songs out of their recollections and record collections. Saint Etienne's songs anticipate big nights out, practice self-care the morning after, call for more, more, more--all with equal panache. Their music collapses the timeline.
As literally nobody says: if you can remember the late 90s, then you weren't really there. At the time, the period seemed to take on a beatific, easy-going glow in the eyes of the media - the Britpop party had ended but the confidence remained, while Labour's history-making victory seemed to remove the Tory menace forever. Looking back, emotions are mixed: the art that emerged from the late 90s often feels flat, saccharine, lacking any kind of counter cultural edge; Labour - New Labour - failed to invoke radical change in this country, largely allowing the achievements that did emerge to rest on market forces.