Saint Etienne Deluxe Reissues Part II ~ So Tough

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Phase 2 of the Saint Etienne reissues continues this week with their 1993 Heavenly album, and highest charter to date, So Tough and 2000s Sound of Water, originally released on Mantra and in America on Sub Pop, but now also out on Heavenly.

I haven’t had chance to listen to Sound of Water yet and will do so over the weekend and give you my two pennyworth next week.

Back in their pomp, in which So Tough fell slap bang in the middle of, Saint Etienne passed me by, as did everything else. Despite being lucky enough to count Bob Stanley as a dear friend, in those dark days I was living a thousand miles from London (metaphorically), listening only to The Kinks and Scott Walker (of course), the likes of Vaughan Williams, Sibelius, Prokofiev and Liszt and Billy Childish’s Headcoats. How about that for a bag of cats?

My ten-year hiatus with pop music was drawing to a close. I was on the verge of rediscovering my love for The Fall and would soon be hearing Modern Life is Rubbish for the first time.

Listening, thus, to So Tough for the first time, sixteen years after its recording, I think I can say that it’s electronica-based dance rhythms would have got short shrift from the angry young dunderhead I was back then. However, I now find the opener Mario’s Cafe and dreamy Avenue are quite lovely and You’re in a Bad Way is pretty obviously a minor pop classic (maybe a major one?). And though I still regard electronica with great suspicion, I love the dubby Railway Jam and can see the appeal of the dance-based Calico and Conchita Martinez.

Each track is interspersed by carefully and judiciously chosen snippets from Billy Liar, Peeping Tom, The Family etc, some with added beats and strings, with some given (great) titles; Date with Spelman, Memo to Pricey, Clock Milk and Here Come the Clown Feet echo The Who Sell Out and Ogden’s.

But I expect you know all this. Why buy this if you’ve already got it? Well, it comes with an excellent 17-track bonus disc of outtakes, b-sides, covers (including Dylan’s Rainy Day Women, I’m Too Sexy, Teenage Fanclub’s Everything Flows & a delicious version of Stranger in Paradise) and bonus material, including four previously unreleased pieces. One of which, Orpington Blues echoes Railway Jam. The dreamy, atmospheric Johnny in the Echo Cafe and Paper are particular stand-outs.

The disc also includes the legendary Van Dyke Parks’ arrangement of Hobart Paving.

Can anyone tell me – is this their best album? If not, I look forward to hearing more. Always empathetic with Bob, Pete & Sarah’s vision of England; a concrete 60s suburban estate built adjacent to (or swallowing) Ray Davies’ Village Green and within touching distance of the caffs and glamour of the Big City, I’m now a convert to (most of) their sound (still can’t quite embrace the Eurodisco beats).

The package is retailing at less than a tenner and I cannot think of any reason why any Saint Etienne fan wouldn’t want to buy it.

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