In 1993 I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Cracknell at a signing at an HMV store. It was Sheffield sound city and the Saint Etienne were doing the signing ahead of their set. I took along my copies of ‘Foxbase Alpha’ and ‘So Tough’. I had never really met any singers or bands before at the time, especially none that I was such a huge fan of. They always say you should never meet your heroes as you will only be disappointed. But that’s not what happened. Instead I met the nicest woman in pop. I became an even bigger fan that day than I ever was before. Sarah even told me she liked my name. Since then they have produced some of the coolest and catchiest pop tunes of the last twenty years, and I have keenly followed their career.
Sarah’s first dabble with a solo career was on 1997’s ‘Lipslide’. It kept to Saint Etienne’s disco sensibilities, whilst at the same time being a more song-based album. Whilst Saint Etienne mixed great pop tunes with well produced dance tracks, this album was all about Sarah.
A few weeks ago Sarah released details of her second solo project ‘Red Kite.’ She released a brand new track ‘On The Swings’ on her Soundcloud page, which kicks the album off to a mellow start. The album is completely different to her debut. But it has been nineteen years since the release of ‘Lipslide,’ so there is no reason why it should be at all alike. The electronic disco sound has gone, in favour of a more melancholic sound. Whilst initially these twelve tracks don’t appear to be as catchy as those on its predecessor, after just a couple of listens (and I recommend you give it that) the songs will be rattling around your head as much as anything from her previous work.
The album whilst different in its sound, has a lot of the same characteristics of her previous music, both as a solo artist and as part of Saint Etienne. It is cool, credible pop music, with the same quirky well-written lyrics. The tempo has been slowed down somewhat, but it is still painted with that undeniably flavour that Sarah has made her own since the early nineties. She has always been more famous for the more upbeat pop tracks, so it is interesting to hear her release a collection of songs that stray mainly to the ballad side. Her breathy voice is not designed for the big power ballads; more the the subtle understated slow songs. Songs like ‘In the dark’ and ‘The Mutineer’ see her return to her best, and match her previous best ballad ‘Hobart Paving’; The beautiful track she recorded with Saint Etienne. The really special moment from the album comes in the middle in the shape of ‘Take the silver’ featuring The Rails. It’s a folky, acoustic track ladened with strings. It’s great to see that after all the time in the music industry, she can still surprise her fans by recording something as new and different as this.
There are a few great upbeat numbers on here too. ‘Nothing left to talk about’ is probably the closest thing on here to her previous work with Saint Etienne and features Manics legend Nicky Wire.
It was a surprise to me when I saw a second solo album was due. As such a huge fan of ‘Lipslide’ (It’s still my running album to this day) and all her work with Saint Etienne, it’s always exciting and also a little nerve-wracking to get new material after such a gap between releases. Sarah has always been several steps ahead of her contemporaries in the ‘cool’ stakes. With the release of this album, she proves that she is still as cool and current as any of the new stars of today. It’s great to have her back. Let’s hope it’s not such a long wait between this and the next.
Red Kite is out 15th June.