Saint Etienne: I’ve Been Trying to Tell You review – Emotional time travel

Fri, Sep 10, 2021, 05:00

   
 

Album:
I've Been Trying to Tell You

Artist:
Saint Etienne

Label:
Heavenly

Genre:
Rock

Saint Etienne’s 10th studio record navigates something they have often explored: the past. On this, their first sample-driven record since 1993’s So Tough, and 30 years on from their influential debut (Foxbase Alpha), they mine sounds drawn from the period 1997-2001.

The key theme is contemplation, explored in an immersive way, from the accompanying film directed by photographer Alasdair McLellan to the essay by writer Owen Hatherley and collaborations with composer Gus Bousfield.

Pete Wiggs, Sarah Cracknell and Bob Stanley have always been experts in nostalgia, and this record amplifies how collective memory can shape-shift, be co-opted and disturbed. A sampled harpsichord from an old RnB song is melded with a pastoral English hue on Music Again, which complements the birdsong that circles around Little K, and the trippy, muffled sounds on Fonteyn. 

The celestial, instrumental beauty of Blue Kite, with its wonky strings and bassy beats, meets the doleful yet tender Penlop at its dreamy core. I Remember It Well marries choral elements with a sombre, spare guitar and floating mysterious voices that evoke long-hidden memories.

It is a mid-tempo gem, emblematic of how pop music can be a kind of time travel, reminding us that we not only miss people and places, but a feeling. It is our good fortune that Saint Etienne continue to try to take us there.