Beta Irrational (IEI or SLE); or SEI
Here are the pictures:
Here's what Robert Christgau has to say:
'So Tough [Warner Bros., 1993]
Although their roots in the pretechno dance movement render their pop strictly futuristic, classic English not-rock with pretensions to not being pretentious, I stuck around when the first song evoked the female fanworld and the second cut was a niece of Brian Eno's "Sky Saw." Add the foregrounded textures and hidden tunes of two male pop intellectuals languidly manipulating synths and samplers to Sarah Cracknell's subdued lyricism and you have an educational argument for the impressionistic pastiche that's one British pop dream. Cracknell's all-purpose pomo receptivity projects no persona. She's a chameleon, a willing mouthpiece, an aural presence whispering: "Close your eyes/Kiss the future/Junk the morgue." A-'
'...in fact Wendy Robinson doesn't know what a crooked answer is--not compared to Saint Etienne. All they would seem to share with the Popinjays is that both are English studio concoctions with a woman up front. Big deal if they profess fealty to Phil Spector--not even Saint Phil, who favored singers with rather more oomph than Sarah Cracknell, buried his tunes this deep. Saint Etienne's roots in the 98-bpm pretechno dance movement means their pop is strictly futuristic, classic English not-rock, and their debut album, Foxbase Alpha, remains a hodgepodge of vaguely interesting ideas with pretensions to not being pretentious. Nevertheless, the first song on So Tough (Warner Bros.) sucked me in. This sweet, slow, flute-and-violin-accompanied electrodance track, set "Tuesday morning 10 a.m." in a Kentish Town cafe, turns out to be a deeply affectionate evocation of a female pop fan's world: "Everyone's dreaming of all they've got to live for/Joking around still digging that sound." When the second cut reminded me of nothing so much as Brian Eno's "Sky Saw," I decided the album might be worth sticking with, and after a while the textures and their hidden tunes got me.
Music is foregrounded here, and almost all of it comes from two male pop intellectuals languidly manipulating synths and samplers. Cracknell's quiet lyricism is just part of the mix. But one of the two compositions she had a hand in has the nakedest melody on the album as well as one of the few lyrics to address a boy-girl theme. "You're in a Bad Way" doesn't just try to be nice. It's the most abject offer of succor since Dusty Springfield's "Breakfast in Bed": "Just dial my number/I've got some plans for you/You're in a bad way/And I can help you through." The difference, and it's a big one, is that Cracknell isn't out to catch a rebound--she means to deliver her lost-in-London beau ideal from anomie and a bad fashion sense, not the depredations of another woman. But though the fact that his "hair's all wrong" gives a glimmer of hope for this relationship, that "help you through" bespeaks a nice girl who's been down this sad road before. Unless, of course, she doesn't want a "relationship" at all--unless she has not the slightest intention of being a woman like all other women and marrying a man just the same.
I'd be a rockist fool to pretend to pin down a group like Saint Etienne, for whom obliqueness is all. Unlike Wendy Robinson, Cracknell projects no persona; she's a chameleon, a willing mouthpiece, an aural presence whispering, "Close your eyes/Kiss the future/Junk the morgue." But the way her all-purpose pomo receptivity melds into the impressionistic pastiche leaves her open to infinite interpretation, and I prefer to hear her as a somewhat more privileged Wendy Robinson evolved along a different path. Robinson's music is trad because she hasn't given up on, or can't escape the pull of, trad's romantic dreams; Cracknell's is futuristic because she's left that behind. A fan full of hope at the start, by the end she's remixing a single called "Join Our Club." It's about a fan club, but not one she belongs to--it's Saint Etienne's.
For too-nice-with-teeth Wendy Robinson, pop is a means of provisional empowerment. For nicer-from-a-distance Sarah Cracknell, it's a solution. But there's a problem with that--in the cold light of day, pop is never a solution.
Village Voice, June 15, 1993'
Here are the songs:
D major (Aquarius) --