Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: Universal
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop
On their eighth album, quintessentially English pop group Saint Etienne celebrate obsessive teenage pop music fandom and, more broadly, as singer Sarah Cracknell puts it on spoken word opener Over The Border, "the strange and important sound of the synthesizer. " That song nicely sums up the record's overarching theme: music's ability to transport listeners back through their memories. Although Words And Music is largely about nostalgia, it smartly remains an avowedly modern-sounding album thanks in part to producers like Xenomania's Nick Coler, Tim Powell (Kylie Minogue) and Richard X (Annie, M.
A recent YouGov study has found that the most popular way for the public to discover new music is through the radio, that the place that people are most likely to look for album reviews is in a newspaper, and that going out and buying an album is still more popular than listening to a free stream. Despite living in the digital age, it appears the influx of technology hasn’t overtaken us just yet and, perhaps, many of us are simply traditionalists at heart. In some ways, it’s easy to see why.
Are you sick of hearing about Proust’s madeleine, gentle reader? Will an involuntary gag reflex cause you to vomit up the combination of cake and tea that comes so conveniently at the beginning of the first volume of his monumental work À la recherche du temps perdu? Assuming the answer to the above is yes, then, in regard to this album, let’s not and say we did. If anyone is confessional, however — to the point of oversharing — it’s Proust. And although I’m usually suspicious of the confessional mode, Words and Music by Saint Etienne is an album that evokes this response strongly.
Saint Etienne's eighth record, Words and Music by Saint Etienne, is centered on a theme that has been part of their music since the group began. They've always been one of the most nostalgic groups around, draping themselves in the visuals, styles, and sounds of the past while still staying modern. They've rarely seemed to be touched by the past on a personal level, but now perhaps age and experience have given them a reason to look back at their own lives and do a bit of summing up.
You could say that Saint Etienne has been too perfect for its own good, at least when it comes to attracting a mainstream audience by creating what the general listening public expects from pop music. But more discerning listeners can appreciate Saint Etienne for being pretty much peerless in its ability to craft immaculate pop songs in all shapes and sizes, from orchestral mini-epics to Abba-esque Europop to electro compositions that seem like hits from the future. Over the years, mastermind producer-types Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have gone from searching for just the right sounds to shaping full-fledged songs, with singer Sarah Cracknell more than another pretty voice in the mix, but a driving force behind Saint Etienne’s sophisticated pop vision.
Ever felt a connection to a group or a song so intense and completely one-sided that it defied and confounded all logic or reality? Of course you have, you’re reading this magazine. That being the case, this record is the soundtrack to your life. Sure, the threesome’s advancing years date the references (“[i]I was in love, and I knew he loved me back because he’d made me a tape[/i]”), but the sentiment is unendingly adorable.
In 2005, when Saint Etienne's last studio album Tales from Turnpike House was released, rumour spread that the band was about to split up. It turned out to be false: since Tales from Turnpike House, the band have put out a Christmas album, a film soundtrack, a complete reworking of their debut album Foxbase Alpha by producer Richard X and – surely the kind of thing you could only really imagine appearing in a Saint Etienne discography – an EP issued solely to those who'd responded to an online appeal by band member Bob Stanley, looking for the handful of albums he needed to complete his collection of Now That's What I Call Music compilations. And yet, you can see why people thought Tales from Turnpike House could be a grand finale.
The way pop interacts with our lives is as ripe for interrogation as ever. Late last year, Drake wrote a blog post criticizing Tumblr, at a time when acts from Dirty Beaches to Grimes could be seen as building specific tastes (David Lynch, K-pop) into their aesthetic identities almost as overtly as if they were re-blogging a YouTube video. The gap between how records sound and the personal experiences they can bring to mind is also a crucial theme of one of my favorite albums of 2012, Europe, by Allo Darlin'.
Saint Etienne’s connection with their home soil has always been strong; most of their albums navigate a well-thumbed mental copy of the London A-Z map. But 2005’s Tales From Turnpike House saw the band leave the streets, step inside a high-rise housing block, and write a soundtrack to what they found there. With Words And Music By Saint Etienne, their eighth studio full-length, they continue in the same vein – only now the rooms they peer into, and the scenes they find there, are no longer located in geographical space but within the memories of the band members themselves.
London's Saint Etienne may not appreciate the following allegory, so I'll offer my profuse apologies in advance..
London, UK dance pop savants Saint Etienne have finally returned after seven long years, back on their original label, Heavenly. Nearly calling it a day after touring 2005's conceptual Tales from Turnpike House, Bob, Pete and Sarah present Words and Music, another themed album in which the trio explore how music affects your life. "Over the Border" opens the album with its thesis: a nostalgic anecdote written by Bob Stanley that details the joy of experiencing a musical awakening at a young age.
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.
The artwork for Saint Etienne’s eighth studio album, and first for 7 years, is an eye catching street map made up of over 300 pop songs and references as place names, from Penny Lane and Paisley Park to Electric Avenue and Thunder Road. The incredibly detailed album sleeve is, in effect, a patchwork of all the myriad pop references and influences that have made Saint Etienne such revered pop connoisseurs over the course of their 22-year career. It is perhaps the perfect image to accompany an album all about the gloriously transcendental and life affirming pleasures of music and how those pleasures never leave you as you live your life and grow ever older.
The trio looks back on a life lived through music, and the daft things it makes people do. Ian Wade 2012 If any band knows about the magic of pop, it’s Saint Etienne. As their recent deluxe-ing up of their catalogue, the release of a Christmas album, a few EPs, film soundtracks and a spell being artists in residence at London’s Southbank Centre prove: here is a band who know their way around a tune.