Some bands seem to never stop toiling at the coal face, regularly delivering new albums, preaching to the converted and seemingly content to simply do what they do. Most utterly lovely amongst such bands are the fine folk of Saint Etienne. After years of deluxe edition reissues, fan club only box sets and Christmas compilation curios, it was a cause for joy to be on the receiving end of a new set of songs in 2012. In fact, we already knew it was going to be great before we heard a note. The album artwork is a masterpiece and one of the finest covers to grace a slab of vinyl in recent years. Having had the opportunity to re-evaluate why I loved them in the first place, I approached ‘Words and Music by Saint Etienne‘ with the ears of an enthusiast and was not in any way disappointed.
The timeless classic pop nous that Sarah Cracknell, Pete Wiggs and chart enthusiast and all round music keeno Bob Stanley possess has always been an innocent pleasure. Their music may evoke memories of times and tunes gone by, but never in an ironic or artificial way. Where the Pet Shop Boys can deliver magnificently self-deprecating, even sardonic material of great quality, Saint Etienne provide the sincere enthusiasts approach. The glory in a good bassline well deployed or a neat bit of house piano attached to an intro radiates from their work and this utterly open approach, free of calculating agenda, is hugely infectious. ‘I’ve Got Your Music‘ evokes those early Nineties TOTP thrills, whilst opener ‘Over The Border‘ narrates the early life of most Smash Hits buying, chart monitoring, single collecting music fans of a certain age.
The album’s lead off track, the euphorically robust ‘Tonight’ nearly clinched the Popjustice £20 prize for single of the year, and the album’s softer moments serve to remind us of the velvety majesty of Cracknell’s legendary voice. But, I have yet to mention the album’s stand out moment. It is found on the album’s stand out track, ‘Last Days Of Disco‘. Since I first heard it, I have declared this the great lost Kylie single. A Minogue version would wipe the floor with anyone but, tucked away on a Saint Etienne album and heard by the devoted minority, it works most as a best kept secret charmer. Late on in the song, some clearly played on a keyboard strings come in that are so utterly demonstrative of the euphoric power of certain moments in music I can’t write this without having to put it on again and again and again. In fact, I’ll stop now, so you can do the same.