The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Saint Etienne
Words And Music By Saint Etienne Tina Winter , May 22nd, 2012 06:17

Emerging at the dawn of the 1990s, when everyone else was starting to find inspiration in their record collections, Saint Etienne seemed like a very sane escape. While the louder groups banged on about Can, Big Star, Skip Spence or the MC5, Pete Wiggs, Sarah Cracknell and Bob Stanley were celebrating the more ephermeral, the oddities, the national treasures from an alternate universe. This included the Figurine Panini-isms of the inner sleeve of Foxbase Alpha detailing the likes of Adrienne Costa and Mickey Dolenz, railing against Kenny Thomas fake-soul on 'People Get Real', covering old Opportunity Knocks winners or being the first people to discuss Middle Of The Road and Lieutenant Pigeon in a reasonably serious manner. Saint Etienne offered you the chance to join their club, and it was an irresistible invitation. In a career that’s spanned 21 years and delivered ounces of pop gold, they’ve travelled their own unique path, but one you were welcome to join.

Over the next two decades they’ve created an enviable discography with 16 Top 40 hits, a cluster of albums from the endless summer burst of Foxbase Alpha, to the leaner, linear The Sound Of Water, and their last proper album (not including the Foxbase Beta re-boot and A Glimpse Of Stocking Christmas album and several fan club only releases), 2005's Tales From Turnpike House.

The title comes from Lawrence from Felt/ Denim. It’s produced by a crack team of Ian Catt, The KLF and Sugababes producer (and one-time Rubette) Nick Coler, Tim Powell and Richard X. 'I Love To Love' hitmaker Tina Charles chirps in with backing vocals. Rob Davis – ex of Mud, now top pop songsmith – is in there too. It’s certainly not likely to be confused with anything by Arcade Fire.

Opener 'Over The Border' celebrates Top of The Pops as a world atlas, buying singles from Woolworths, devouring the logos and shades of the labels, playing mix tapes in the bedroom, graduating through Smash Hits, Melody Maker and the NME. How music is there for you, for listeners of a certain age with blissful moments between school runs and day jobs when you’re lost in music. 'Record Doctor' is a minute long ode to a gentleman who manages to end your worries and woes with a handy tune in his bag. 'Answer Song' coasts along a pop wave of gorgeous swirls of strings and filters, swelling majestically throughout. If Girls Aloud came back with it, it would be stuck in the Top Three for at least six months. 'Tonight' encapsulates the excitement of attending a gig from a favourite band. It seems to distil the spirit of that experience - That special moment when you’re in the same room as your idols. And so it goes on. Even with the sad, contemplative moments such as '25 Years', there’s a sprightly, sound of a constant early summer about proceedings, that lifts you from any darkening worries.

Words And Music By Saint Etienne is an album that reaffirms all that is glorious and brilliant about pop music, and why holding on to the memories of when it hit you hardest, when you were the willing sponge to swept up with whatever mania was going around at the time, is not a life wasted. If you’ve ever sought out Salford Lad’s Club, cherished an empty Kylie water-bottle or started reading Derrida because some bloke named Green had written a song about him this album will speak to that part of you, and the first loves forged into your soul. It has the BEST album cover of the year too. Amazing.