Best tunes of 1993: #18 Saint Etienne “You’re in a bad way”

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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.


Best tunes of 1992: #9 The Beautiful South “Old red eyes is back”

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I’ve already written in passing on these pages about how I wrote all of my first year university essays to Beautiful South’s third album, “0898”. The reason behind this was quite simple: it was one of the first albums I purchased on compact disc. Of course, it was a quieter album and I wrote most of my first years essays late at night. You see, I was living at home at the time and it was the only quiet time I had to myself in a very full house. I remember one night in particular when I had two essays due on the following day and I hadn’t started either one. I hopped myself up on Jolt Cola and set myself down with the intention to write both that night. I finished one and started the other, printing both in the early hours of the morning while sipping away at a Folgers instant. And the whole night long, “0898” was playing.

You might think that the way I experienced this album that year might have intrinsically led to me tying it up with bad memories. But not so. It is because of those long, arduous sessions that I know this album I intimately. I know every song, every note, every word. Whenever I listen to it, a smile is brought to my lips, many times throughout the listen, for different songs, for different reasons.

Is this Beautiful South’s best album? In my opinion, yes. I realize I am biased here. But I am willing to fight anyone who disagrees.

“Old Red eyes is back
Red from the night before the night before
Walked into the wrong bar walked into a door“

The album starts off with “Old red eyes is back”, a track that wasn’t particularly obvious as a single, but there it was nonetheless, the first single, poking at us with a sturdy red finger. It begins with Heaton singing passion, all alone against the heavy-handed playing of a grand piano, then, at the end of the first verse, the rest of the band joins in, drums and guitars and synthesized strings, back up vocals and all, making a statement, an exclamation mark, railing against the evils of alcoholism. I was new to alcohol at the time, only just  experimenting here and there with beer and wine and rum. I’d had a good time with it but understood there were dangers there. And of course, I clung to the tragedy of it all.

“Old Red he died
And every single landlord in the district cried
An empty bottle of whiskey laying by his side
A lazy little tear running from each eye
They could never be blue“

The Beautiful South were a pop band but they were also a social conscience and that’s what I loved about them, especially at the beginning. Yes, there was that singular voice of Paul Heaton. But without the meaning that spoke to me, I may never have fallen for them.

I did, though, and this song is a big reason why. So, so good.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.


Vinyl love: The Beautiful South “Miaow”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Beautiful South
Album Title: Miaow
Year released: 1994
Year reissued: 2018
Details: black vinyl

The skinny: So this here’s the third and final (for now) installment in a totally unplanned series on the reissued Beautiful South albums in my vinyl collection. “Miaow” is the English alternative pop band’s fourth album and in my opinion, was their last great record. Much like on “Welcome to The Beautiful South“, the subject of the first of this series two weeks ago, the cover on this reissue is much different than the one I purchased on CD, many moons ago. But the reason for this was a controversy of a different sort. The owners of music chain HMV thought that the original cover of an audience of dogs expectantly looking up at a gramophone on a stage poked fun at their trademark. I’d never seen this replacement cover featuring sailing dogs until I received this reissue in the post. I’m still hoping that the band’s sophomore album, “Choke”, gets a reissue so that I can complete my collection of their must-have first four records. And well, I find myself wondering what that album cover will look like.

Standout track: “Hooligans don’t fall in love”