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Music / Saint Etienne

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From L-to-R: Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs

Saint Etienne is an Indie Pop group from London who are sometimes described as making "indie dance" music. The band was founded in 1991 by ex-music journalists Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, who named it after a French football team, and they originally had rotating guest singers until Sarah Cracknell joined them permanently, midway through production of their first album.

Their most famous single is their first, a cover of the Neil Young song "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" – which was not sung by Sarah, iron given that she is generally considered the band's face otherwise.

Most of their music can accurately be described as a love song dedicated to London, the city in which the band is based, despite one of their major influences being Northern Soul music.

An incomplete discography:

  • Foxbase Alpha (1991)
  • So Tough (1993)
  • Tiger Bay (1994)
  • Good Humor (1998)
  • The Misadventures of Saint Etienne (1999) (Soundtrack)
  • Sound of Water (2000)
  • Finisterre (2002)
  • Tales from Turnpike House (2005)
  • What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2006) (Soundtrack)
  • Foxbase Beta (2009) (Remix Album of their debut, Foxbase Alpha)
  • Words and Music by Saint Etienne (2012)
  • Home Counties (2017)


  • Age-Progression Song: "Over The Border".
  • Alternative Dance: often classified as "Indie Dance", which can be considered a subgenre of Alternative Dance.
  • Ballad of X: "Ballade de Saint Etienne".
  • Concept Album: Tales from Turnpike House, which features various stories about the residents in a neighbourhood somewhere in London. Also Words and Music by Saint Etienne is about music fandom.
  • The Cover Changes... Almost Everything, Actually: "I'm Too Sexy". The story goes that when they got into the studio to record the song, they couldn't remember how it goes, so they made it up on the spot.
  • Cover Version: Quite a few, including songs by David Bowie, Teenage Fanclub, Scott Walker, and, famously, Neil Young ("Only Love Can Break Your Heart").
  • Everything Is an Instrument: "People Get Real" includes a jet engine (Heavenly Records boss Jeff Barrett is credited with "playing" it). Given that it appears prominently in the middle eight, it's effectively the song's lead solo.
  • Fourth Ranger: Long-serving backing singer Debsey Wykes.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Several, but the two-disc Smash The System: Singles And More is the best - not least because of its Neapolitan-ice-cream-colored cover.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Oh god, "Teenage Winter".
  • Hymn to Music: A favourite theme, most famously employed for "Join Our Club" and most of Words and Music by Saint Etienne.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: the repeated, distorted refrain in "Girl VII". Producer Ian Catt and remixer Richard X may be the only people outside the band who know for sure what it says - and Pete Wiggs claims he's forgotten. Lyric sites give it as "Carrie's got a boyfriend", but that may just be Fanon.
  • Listing Cities: In one song on Foxbase Alpha entitled Girl VII, Sarah starts listing London neighbourhoods and a few other cities.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The relatively upbeat "Goodnight Jack" tells the story of a woman who, after her man says he only wants to be her friend, runs him over and escapes the scene of the crime.
  • Murder Ballad: "Like A Motorway". Also "Goodnight, Jack".
  • Not a Morning Person: The narrator in "Split Screen" says she is the one. That is, NOT a morning person.
  • One-Woman Song: Erica America off Good Humor.
  • Retraux: They like to play with this in both the music and its packaging.
  • Self-Demonstrating Song: About half way through "California Snow Story", Sarah says "I think I'll just let the music play", and that's exactly what happens, as the second half is entirely instrumental.
  • Self-Deprecation: Their sleevenotes do this a lot.
  • Shout-Out: Their songs are so packed with these, it took the crowdsourcing power of the internet to decipher the dense web of references.
  • Sibling Triangle: "Sylvie", sung from the POV of Sarah's character towards her younger sister (the titular Sylvie). She warns Sylvie not to flirt too much:
    "Sylvie, girl, I'm a very patient person,
    But I'll have to shut you down,
    If you don't give up your flirting.
    Leave him alone, ''cause I know he loves me.
    Leave him alone, ''cause he tells me he loves me."
  • Song of Song Titles: "Popular".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Pete Wiggs on "I'm Too Sexy".
  • Two Decades Behind: Exactly this time lag is invoked for an unnamed place possibly in Idaho in regard to Los-Angeles
    In twenty years this place will be
    Just like L.A. today.
  • With Lyrics: The previously instrumental "Stoned To Say The Least" gained lyrics twenty years later.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Hobart Paving" among others.