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.
The last time they bestowed a full new album on the public was 2005’s Tales from Turnpike House, which had the feeling of a finale about it, especially with its bonus children’s EP. But to those who’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s time to stop getting over-excited about Phil Oakey’s hair, SL2 and David Essex over the past few years: chin up. Put the growing up on hold for a while, as not only have Saint Etienne seen fit to return, but they’ve done so with a stunner.
Words and Music by Saint Etienne (that’s the full title, as suggested by Lawrence Hayward of Felt) sees Pete, Bob and Sarah looking back on a life lived through music, its importance and the daft things it leads a fan to do. Epic opener Over the Border discusses travelling to Peter Gabriel’s house, the labels of love, Smash Hits, "the strange and important sound of the synthesiser," and whether Marc Bolan would still be relevant to a grown woman married with kids.
Produced by a dream team of Ian Catt, The KLF and Sugababes producer (and one-time Rubette) Nick Coler, Tim Powell and Richard X, Words and Music… is a fantastic and warm collection of jubilant happy/sad pop moments, delivering all that Saint Etienne are known for. It’s a set which reminds the listener that the magic is always with them – whether it’s about a chap who has all the answers via the medium of a tune (Record Doctor), the giddy excitement of getting ready to see your favourite band (Tonight), the power of a DJ (um, DJ) or even chatting about vintage pop on internet message boards (Popular). Mortality gets a look in with 25 Years, which will prompt many a listener to take a sad gulp.
Words and Music… offers rewarding assurance that whatever life throws at you, music is quite often the best and only answer. It’s had you, and you’ve had it, for life. To paraphrase one notable pop sage: only when you’re dancing, can you feel this free. Or to paraphrase another: first love never ever dies. Wonderful stuff.
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