A love of music has always been at the heart of what Saint Etienne do, but never more so than on their new album, Words And Music By Saint Etienne. From the title to the front cover map of song-related street names, everything about it is an ode to the power and magic of music and the very personal memories it can hold for us. More importantly than that, it’s also a sparkling collection of wonderful pop music in its own right.
It opens with the gorgeous Over The Border, where Sarah Cracknell delivers the verses in spoken word form, telling the story of her musical childhood experiences, from seeing older kids at school go to Peter Gabriel‘s house in Somerset to falling in love with Top Of The Pops and Smash Hits and wanting to listen to Dexy’s and New Order instead of revising and sitting exams.
Of course, the flip side to the nostalgia coin is the acknowledgement of the passage of time, and Cracknell even asks (herself?) at the end whether Marc Bolan is still as important to her now that she’s married with children. There’s no direct answer, other than in the chorus: ‘Over the border, I’m getting older, heaven only knows what’s on its way, every single day. Love is here to stay.’
If that’s not clear enough, every other song on Words And Music provides the answer. Saint Etienne may be older, but their enthusiasm for pop music is undimmed, and so is their ability to make it. Second track I’ve Got Your Music sounds like a particularly classy latter-day Kylie song and it perfectly fits the lyrics as it really is a song that follows you, everywhere you go, round and round inside your head.
Hooking up with Xenomania for first single Tonight also shows that there’s more to Saint Etienne than wistful nostalgia for bygone days, and that song along with DJ are all about the power of music to lift and inspire you, no matter who you are. And they’re both great dance-pop songs, as good as you’ll hear by any group right now, regardless of their age. They haven’t been this danceable for a while, and it’s good to hear.
But for every disco beat there’s a slight edge of melancholy lurking in the backdrop, and some of the best tracks on Words And Music are those that find Cracknell and Co looking backwards rather than forwards. Heading For The Fair and When I Was Seventeen are both the kind of intelligent pop masterpieces that we’ve come to expect from Saint Etienne (or Pet Shop Boys), while I Threw It All Away shows the less electronic, more folksy side to their music.
The album closes with Haunted Jukebox, a song about those songs that bring back specific memories about relationships, good and bad, and it’s a fitting way to end an album so rich with its love of music. It’s great that Saint Etienne are still around to evoke that bedroom world of Record Doctors who can take away all of our pain, and even better that, in doing so, they’ve made the perfect album for the start of the summer.