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4.6 out of 5 stars17
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 3 July 2005
Saint Etienne are one of those consistently surprising bands. For 15 years we have followed them on this whimsical journey, and they show no sign of fatigue as yet. Each album contains the requisite pop/dance stormers that would probably harass the Top 10 relentlessly were they by some personality-free record label-marionettes. Similarly, with every release you know there's going to be a few tracks that you will probably listen to a couple of times then write off, only to find yourself a few months / years down the line giving them a second chance and wondering what on earth was wrong with you.
Their last offering, "Finisterre", didn't even bother the Top 40 album chart. An absolute travesty when you consider the musical hot water bottles and duvets the masses are missing out on. Saint Etienne have a knack for producing albums that are as different from the last as dog food is from hairnets. But still they remain unmistakably Saint Etienne.
"Tales From Turnpike House" is no exception. After initial trepidation due to pre-release single "Side Streets" (not that I don't like the song, I just had visions of an album full of acoustic ballads) I was ecstatic to find "Tales..." was just what I was hoping for. Not that I knew what I was hoping for until I heard it. That's the beauty of Saint Etienne. You never know what to expect, so don't have any expectations. As such they never disappoint. With each new release it's like discovering a new band.
"Tales..." is much less electronic than it's predecessor, but still instantly recognisable. Being a "concept" album (usually words to turn your hair grey, but don't fret) set around a London tower block, you may be forgiven for thinking this album might be a difficult listen, at least a touch depressing? But this is Saint Etienne folks, a group who always manage to find the silver lining in the thickest, densest, most ominous rainclouds. The wonderfully harmonious Beach Boys-esque opener, "Sun In My Morning", sets the benchmark, and coaxes you into the belief that although the daily-grind may be hard for these larger-than-life characters, there is still sunshine, love and hope in their lives.
"Milk Bottle Symphony" is vintage Saint Etienne; a slightly quirky pop number smothered in Sarah's melted chocolate vocals. A lovely, thought-provoking song, it introduces us to one of the main recurring characters of the album; drinker Gary Stead. The only truly sad creation on the LP, you still can't help but feel a certain compassion and empathy for him by the closing number.
Fortunately Saint Etienne seem to instinctively know that over-characterising the album would be overkill (if only Blur had had the same insight with "The Great Escape"), and the first of the several pop-stormers, "Lightning Strikes Twice" has a more generic lyric written in first rather than third person. It still nestles happily into the album though, as do "A Good Thing" and "Stars Above Us", which take the lead of "Lightning...". Incidentally, "Stars..." and "Lightning..." are both co-written and co-produced by Xenomania, the team behind much of Girls Aloud's material. Singles-in-waiting methinks. Particularly "Stars..." which had me singing along by the second chorus, and is a bouncy, hook-laden gem about subverting your circumstances and enjoying yourself regardless.
This album may not be perfect, and there are a couple of real dogs (the contrived "Relocate" on which David Essex duets, "Last Orders For Gary Stead" is a bit of a dirge and "The Birdman Of EC1" doesn't really seem to go anywhere) all of which are on the second half of the album. Consequently the first half is far superior. Oddly, two of these three tracks are written by Bob and Pete without Sarah. It seems that Crackers (who once said she didn't want to be just some dolly frontwoman, in the days when she didn't contribute to the compositions) adds that bit of extra sparkle these days.
As a result, like with most Saint Etienne albums which embrace a number of styles and genres, this may not be an absolutely consistent listen. But this is a group who have always been able to evoke emotions no other band can hope to touch. Who can create meaning from things we take for granted so as to make the likes of Coldplay hang it's head in pretentious shame. So frankly, when a band can craft such beautiful tunes and say so much with inane day-to-day life as their template, who cares?
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on 14 June 2005
When World Peace is finally declared Saint Etienne will write the soundtrack. The word 'pop' was created for them, in fact maybe they created the whole genre themselves. Their music is so blissfully and painfully beautiful it's hard to imagine a world without them. Their will be no angels with harps in heaven but Sarah, Bob and Pete waving people in to the sound of Saint Etienne. The album has everything from sing-along pop songs, instrumentals and tear jerking ballads. At the end of every track Etienne wipe the slate clean and start all over. There's not an ounce of repetition when tracks incorporate electronica, spanish guitars and even David Essex! Highlight of the album has to be 'Last Orders for Gary Stead' which would put a smile on the face of even the hardest anti-pop cynic. Just when you think it's safe to go back in the water final track 'Goodnight' ensures a tear remains in the eye before you press repeat on your stereo and start the journey all over again. Now I can only pray, that after 16 years of pop perfection, this is only the beginning!
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on 21 June 2005
Saint Etienne are without doubt one of the most under rated "groups" of all time. They have had their odd dodgy moment but this album is fantatstic.
The first two tracks set the tone. Sun in my morning is uplifting with great harmonies. Milk bottle symphony is a story of a track with Sarah's beatiful vocals doing it justice. You cannot fail to sing to it. Lightning strikes twice is Euro sounding and is "Kylie-esque". The beautiful, Slow Down At The Castle next with it's strumming guitars. More sing a long with Good Thing and the first single Side Streets again with great harmonies is mellow and relaxing. Last Orders and Relocate are not to as high a standard but still ok. Disco sounding Stars Above us is great again sounding a bit like Kylie.Jumping stlyes again is Bird Man. An instrumental mandolin sounding affair that again is wonderful. Teenage Winter is heavier with Sarah's vocals shining through. Goodnight is the best end to an album I have had the pleasure to listen to. Beatiful, sad, harmonious, tearful and vocal.
In summary a mixture of stlyes all excecuted brilliantly. Sarah sounding great and the boys doing what they do best. Lots of great harmonies to support Sarah and all brilliantly produced. It's an absolute pleasure to have them back again. I hope they live forever!
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What a joy to have the Saints back on the scene - the music world always seems so dull and grey when they're absent. And there's double cause for celebration, as they've produced their strongest and most consistent album since 'So Tough'.
Forget ghastly visions of prog-rock, this is a concept album a la Saints; a day in the life of a small London community from the bright dawn chorus of 'Sun In My Morning' to the beautiful lullaby 'Goodnight'.. and it's absolutely packed with top tunes. It almost seems sacreligious to pick out favourites. There's the glorious, sunny disco of 'Good Thing' and 'Stars Above Us', the slightly sinister electronica of 'Lightning Strikes Twice', the touching melancholy of 'Teenage Winter' and the unexpected glam of the brilliant 'Last Orders for Gary Stead'...not forgetting the Saints' take on The Good Life, 'Relocate', starring Sarah as Felicity Kendall (naturally) and a surprisingly good David Essex as Margo (probably). Sarah's voice is at its best, as velvety smooth and sweetly gorgeous as it's ever been, and she's backed by the band's best collection of melodies since the early 'Nineties. If there were any justice in the world this would sell about twenty-seven million copies worldwide (but of course we already know there isn't).
Go down on your knees RIGHT NOW and thank whoever you believe in for giving us Saint Etienne.
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on 20 June 2005
Having always loved St. Etienne, I treasure any new record from Sarah and the boys. This is, arguably, their best yet. It seems to wrap all their previous albums into one big, wonderful, cuddly whole. Put this record on, and the sun shines in your heart. Oh, and the extra disc is also fantastic - any song featuring the line 'and Harry bought a hairy hippo' has got to be good :-)
Buy this record now. Or live to rue the day ;-)
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VINE VOICEon 15 June 2005
In their first UK release since "Finisterre", SE are once again drawing on the past for influence. This album sees a swirling mix of styles, through the Beach Boys/Free Design/Feliciano thing to Euro-Techno, even coming close to parodying their own previous styles. It's obvious, though, that the trio have picked up a lot from their excellent recent retro compilations ("The Trip" and "Songs for Mario's Cafe")and the years have clearly mellowed them.
We begin with "Sun in My Morning", with its beautiful West-Coast stylings and glorious chorus. It's such a gob-smacking intro that they've got a lot to live up to now. Luckily, we return to this haunting sonic world for "Side Streets" and "Goodnight". Thanks to the harmonies of "Tony and Anthony Rivers", there is a little bit of this ethereal beauty behind nearly every track.
"Milk Bottle Symphony", "Slow Down at the Castle" and "Teenage Winter" revisit the uneasily-peaceful style of "No Rainbows for Me" from an earlier Etienne.
"Lightning Strikes Twice" and "Stars Above Us" take us into disco-land - indeed, "Stars" could be Kylie while "Last Orders for Gary Stead" pounds away in a sort of mutant-glam-rock.
"Relocate" is a nice enough song, but I'm sorry, I couldn't enjoy David Essex's gruff interjection. Perhaps it was too much of a sudden shock after hearing Sarah Cracknell's silken tones for so many albums. There is a touch of the "Philip Glass's" about this and the next track, the "Birdman of EC1" which show that the band are more than willing to experiment and push back people's expectations of them.
Great EP, too. Highlights are the Stereolab-like "You Can Count on Me", Tornados-blues of "Excitations" and sleepy orchestrations of "Bedfordshire". A minor critisism, but could not this have fit on the main cd and saved another bit of plastic?
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on 12 July 2005
This album is gentle, wry and beautiful. Fine songs about ordinary things. I love the bit about buying a Subbuteo catalogue on EBay. A long way from their dub-trance albums of the early nineties - even better if anything. And Sarah's voice is amazing.
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on 15 June 2005
Perhaps the best album of Saint Etienne's lengthy career. Moving, uplifting and beautifully realised there are some guaranteed hits with Lightning Strikes Twice and Stars Above Us as well as tracks to rival the melancholy masterpiece that is Hobart Paving. Sarah's voice has never sounded better, she can even make a pedal bin sound beautiful (Teenage Winter).
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2006
I know the words 'concept album' will probably strike fear into the heart of many music fans but this is no ego-project!
The record dips into the personalities, lives and hopes of the inhabitants of the 'Turnpike House'. The songs are thoroughly involving and manage to convey a great deal of atmosphere and information in a short period of time. Saint Etienne also avoid losing melodic quality for the purpose of continuity and in my opinion there are some of the bands best songs included in the set.
Particular highlights are 'Milk bottle symphony', 'Slow down at the castle', 'Relocate' and 'Teenage Winter'. Basically it's a beautifully crafted record avoiding the pitfalls of pretentiousness and whimsy. This may be their masterpiece. We shall see!
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on 12 October 2011
Saint Etienne are contradictory beasts. They're really keen on creating albums that 'hang together' as a coherent whole. And yet at the same time their style is extremely eclectic, veering between techno dance, acoustic folk, and retro 60s pop, so that listening to the album is often feels like a stylistic rollercoaster ride rather than a train journey, if you see what I mean.

'Turnpike House' is set up as a concept album, and it does have a stronger sense of continuity than normal; although the songs are often quite different in style (from the dance-y "Stars Above Us" to the retro "Side Streets", the use of male backing singers and the idea of the tower block setting give it a unity that's stylistic as well as thematic.

For me, what spoils the sense of unity is not the style but the quality. There are some absolute classics on this record: "Teenage Winter" may be the greatest St Etienne song ever written (the last 30 seconds will break your heart). "A Good Thing" and "Side Streets" are beautiful, impeccably produced pop songs with thought-provoking lyrics. And "Slow Down at the Castle" has the mysterious quality that St Etienne bring so well to their more experimental pieces. But there is some tedium too: "Last Orders for Gary Stead" is a dirge, and with all due respect to David Essex, his half-arsed delivery and lame lyrics on "Relocate" scupper a great idea.

Still, 80% of the songs on this album are fabulous and it's definitely worth a purchase, especially with the new bonus disc. I found most of the bonus songs disappointing at first, but like all the best of St Etienne's experiments they will grow on you, and eventually become indispensable...
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