Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
In a year during which we’ve already witnessed an impressive volume of great new music, Saint Etienne’s latest LP Home Counties sits squarely among the shortlist of frontrunnersfor Albumism’s Album-of-the-Year honors. And our hope is that the trio’s fantastic ninth studio affair has inspired their fans—old and new—to revisit the rich recorded repertoire that precedes it.
Saint Etienne’s discography begins, of course, with their divine 1991 debut Foxbase Alpha, an imaginative and definitive aural artifact of the burgeoning dance music scene in England during the inception of the 1990s. Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs convincingly blurred the lines between pop, indie and dance music, straddling the lines between retro and contemporary inspirations, all of which made for a kaleidoscopic, endlessly addictive sound. And ultimately, while their initial foray is stylish and catchy as all hell, it’s music of sophistication and substance to boot.
A mellifluous, multi-textured mélange of house, disco, dub, folk, and pop influenced flourishes, Stanley has described Foxbase Alpha as “a scrapbook” and “stylistically all over the place.” Instead of a messy hodgepodge of incongruous elements, however, the album is a gorgeous, gratifying pastiche of symbiotic sounds and expertly incorporated samples. The radiant reinvention of the Neil Young staple “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” with Moira Lambert on vocals is the most instantly recognizable tune for most. But equally impressive is the juxtaposition of the lush, laid-back melodies of “Carnt Sleep,” “Spring,” and “London Belongs to Me” with the more uptempo fare, including the house-infused “Girl VII” and “Stoned to Say the Least.”
“[Foxbase Alpha] had that first album syndrome, which is a good thing in that it was a melting pot,” Cracknell has suggested. “We thought `my god! We’re making an album and we might not get to make another one ever!’ so we really went for it.” Went for it they did, and they created a contemporary classic in the process.