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I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Saint Etienne’s sophomore album, “So tough”, but I can definitely tell you that I fell in love with it in 1994, a whole year after its release.
I’ll try to elaborate.
My friend Tim recorded a copy of it to cassette tape for me. That much is true. I probably listened to it a few times after he first gave it to me but it really only fell into rotation on my walkman that second year of university. Don’t ask me why I switched back from discman to cassette tape player that year, though if I had to guess, it was probably because I was so impoverished that my only real entertainment came from making mixed tapes. I’m pretty sure I had the album on the other side of a C100 with Lush’s “Gala”, though I no longer have said tape so I can’t confirm or deny. What I can be certain of is the regularity with which visited my ears that year.
“So tough” is technically Saint Etienne’s sophomore LP, it could also be considered the debut by the band as a trio. They began as the duo of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs and had originally planned to employ a series of guest vocalists as needed. They settled on Sarah Cracknell as a permanent vocalist after working with her for one of the singles from the debut, 1991’s “Foxbase Alpha”. “So tough” was her coming out as third official band member and that’s her (a much younger version, of course) gracing the album’s cover.
All in all, “So tough” is as much an album about mood and ambience as it is about getting you out on the dance floor, and with all the sampled soundbites from older, esoteric films that provide segue ways between tunes, it almost feels like a soundtrack, a narrative to a trip of sorts. It certainly soundtracked a number of trips for me, long walks and bus rides. I remember the album keeping me warm on more than one occasion waiting, shivering for the bus that would rocket me down Steeles, away from my institution of higher learning, towards the basement apartment I was lodged in, just north of the ‘416’, near Dufferin Street. It was in that same basement apartment that I, quite by accident, caught an episode of Life on Venus Ave. and that whimsical, extraterrestrial VJ, Ziggy Lorenc, played the video for “You’re in a bad way”.
The album’s second single and sixth track certainly fit* with Ziggy’s love and sexuality funhouse vibe. It’s an obvious kick at 60s throwback bop and pop. It kicks off with a sample from the 1963 film “Billy Liar”: “A man could lose himself in London.” And despite the song’s bright and spritely joy, the lyrics address a man who’s been beset by the humdrum of life and has let it get him down. But have no fear, our good friend Sarah will save him (and us) with that golden voice of hers.
“You’re in a bad way
Every day seems just the same (every day)
Just dial my number
Or call my name”
*And yeah, so did the throwback video.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.