Hot Chip have a new track out before the release of their new album, One Life Stand, next February. “Take It In” is the tenth and last track. The group has been busy since the release of Coming on Strong in 2004, although I’m surprised that they haven’t as of yet collaborated with a hip-hop group. They seem to work on new tracks without a break: I saw them play “Over and Over” live in early 2005; it wasn’t released as a single until later that year and was eventually included on The Warning in May 2006.
The new song is poppier than Hot Chip’s singles, with a well-defined, stellar chorus. The major chord that opens the song immediately submits to a stuttering beat and menacing bass and synth lines. The feeling of uncertainty that pervades the verses pivots suddenly, giving way to a sweet, uplifting chorus featuring a languorous vocal and piano line expertly balanced by the restlessness of the electric guitar. Lyrics are one of the factors that elevate Hot Chip over lesser electro-pop bands of the decade: here, the earnest, slightly-heartbroken words bear the signature of Alexis Taylor. “Surgery took place in the half-life / By then I was no more than a phantom” is accompanied by a horror-movie like harmony in the background. This contrasts to the plaintive words of the chorus, sung dolce – “My heart has flown to you just like a dove / It can fly / Please take my heart and keep it close to you / Take it in”.
Taylor is quoted in NME as stating that the new album is more mid-tempo, more disco-influenced. Regardless of its influences, here’s to hoping all ten tracks sustain this level of quality.
Recently, I’ve also spent some time with Saint Etienne’s Smash the System (2001), a collection of the group’s singles from the 90’s. Saint Etienne is comprised of lead singer Sarah Cracknell and two former music journalists, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. The group’s sound shifts from album to album; some fans claim that it is simply a sonic distillation of London – indeed, many of their songs (the ones that aren’t covers) include references to the city, and their recent retrospective album is titled London Conversations.
“He’s on the Phone” (1995) remains one of their most commercially successful singles. The song has a complicated pedigree: it is a remix of the song “Accident” by Motiv8, which previously appeared on a Saint Etienne/Etienne Daho EP. “Accident” is based on the French hit single “Weekend à Rome” by Daho, a French songwriter who is also the voice behind the spoken lyrics in the middle of “He’s on the Phone”.
The song is about an “academia girl” and her attempt to escape an affair with a married man. The London reference is terse: “Got the cash / Feeling flash / In Leicester Square”; the band needs only eight words to capture the excitement of the forbidden and the thrill of making an impression. The track serves up all the guilty pleasures of a eurodance track without the awful lyrics or over-the-top electronic flourishes. It begins with a lilting, descending piano line and Cracknell’s smooth cooing, which are soon interrupted by a propulsive beat and bass line and pulsing synth chords. These four elements, appearing in many a dance track, combine to form the euphoric chorus, augmented by a stroke of musical genius: Cracknell’s anthemic “Yes / Ooh-ooh.”
Saint Etienne are in the process of releasing remastered versions of their studio albums, beginning with Foxbase Alpha from 1991. They’ve also expressed an interest in writing the theme song for the 2012 London Olympics. I can’t think of a more fitting musical act to represent the city, or of a better opportunity for the band to be introduced to the wider audience it deserves.