Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Saint Etienne 'He's On The Phone'

Chart Peak: 11


Pete Wiggs, Bob Stanley and Sarah Cracknell are Saint Etienne.. They have been turing out classy hit tunes since 1991 and 'He's On The Phone', which made No. 11 in late 1995, is their biggest hit to date in Britain.
Normally, I can write these posts without having to contemplate the possibility that the subjects will ever see them. However, it did cross my mind in this case, since Bob Stanley (the seated keyboard player in this song's video) is known to be a Now! fan and owns a complete set of the albums; in 2009 he thanked 72 fans who'd assisted him in assembling this complete collection by sending them a unique EP of rare tracks. In fact it was I who informed him via Twitter that long-serving Now compiler Ashley Abram had been replaced for Now 82 (unless of course he already knew this and was just being polite). With that background it's not totally unthinkable that he might at some point see this post, although I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if he did.

You can imagine it might be a bit of a disappointment to him that this is the group's only appearance (though of course Sarah Cracknell gets another bite of the cherry on Now 69) but it seems fitting that it's with what remains their highest-charting single under their own steam ('Tell Me Why (The Riddle)' by Paul Van Dyk feat. Saint Etienne made the Top 10 in 2000 but arguably doesn't count). Strictly speaking, the correct credit on this is "...featuring Etienne Daho" but the French pop star's name presumably wouldn't have contributed much to British sales of the single. As far as I know his only performance on this track is the spoken monologue in the middle, although he earns his writing credit since the track is a remix of a song from the two Etiennes' collaborative EP/mini-album thing Reserection. It's based on an Anglicisation of his 1984 Francophone hit 'Week-End A Rome', though the Cracknell/Stanley/Wiggs lyric isn't a translation but adds an entirely new storyline about a student (or "academia girl" as they put it) having an ill-advised fling with a married, presumably much older man and regretting it. There are some good pieces of imagery in there, not least the opening lines where the girl leaves "shoes in hand" so as not to make a sound whilst her lover's using the phone, these being the days when he'd plausibly still have had to sit in a specific place to do so. For single release the track was remixed by Steve Rodway, better known as Motiv 8, who also co-wrote 'Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit' by Gina G, and as somebody tweeted just seconds before I started writing this sentence, 'Atmosphere' by Russ Abbott. It's Rodway's production that is arguably the weakest link in the track today as it sounds very much of its time, and whilst this was presumably the intention it does mean this isn't quite as joyous a record to hear now as it was in the mid-90s. Still, it's hard not to react bodily at that moment when the beat comes back in after the quiet bit.

So, er, yeah, Bob if you're reading this, well done.

Available on: London Conversations

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