Saint Etienne - Foxbase Alpha - Review
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critics' view

Eighteen years old this September, Foxbase Alpha remains one of the most dewy-fresh debut albums ever made. Newly relocated from suburban Croydon to Tufnell Park, north London, schoolfriends Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs set about making what Stanley has called "a time capsule of our lives in that year". Foxbase Alpha (named after a childhood in-joke about a place filled with gorgeous people) is both retro and modern, a love letter and a scrapbook, a compendium of private passions from Dusty Springfield to King Tubby, David Mamet to football, C86 to ambient house, and London, always London. The packaging, with its Jon Savage sleevenotes and Smiths-inspired gallery of 60s icons, is gorgeous, and an eclectic bonus CD of singles, B-sides and offcuts enhances the sense of joyous adventure.

The effect is to invite the listener into a world slightly warmer, brighter and more exciting than the real one. And despite its many American influences, its Swinging London romanticism anticipated Britpop. The balearic reinvention of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart may be its most celebrated moment but London Belongs to Me's NW1 fantasia is the album's awestruck heart: Sarah Cracknell coos the opening line, "took a tube to Camden Town", like she's Alice passing through the looking glass.

Dorian Lynskey
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