Published January 17, 2006
ALBUM: Tales from Turnpike House
(Savoy Jazz Records)
Fifteen years after their incandescent cover of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" captured the British underground, Saint Etienne's music has ripened into a tastefully manicured sort of pop perfection.
Fairly distanced now from the blocky cut-and-paste aesthetic of their post-acid house days, this latest finds them further along their fashionable arc. Smooth enough to float like easy listening yet melodically incisive enough to be nourishing, this pop record apparently has enough class to be put out by a jazz label. Then again, perhaps it's the pronounced jazz strokes like the gentle bossa nova sashay of "Side Streets," the languid flute sighs of "Sun in My Morning" or the vibey afternoon shuffle of "Dream Lover."
But they've always been a dance band so naturally there are the obligatory club numbers ("A Good Thing," "Milk Bottle Symphony"). The record's most fetching cut "Stars Above Us" is a classed-up take on Kylie Minogue's Euro-disco template but it's still sexy as shit. Addictively grooved, this is as perfect as modern dance music gets and is the most marketable song Saint Etienne's done in ages. Another standout track is the densely layered "Lightning Strikes Twice," whose large melody looms atop a centipeding electro beat.
However, even the ever-perfect Saint Etienne shoots wide sometimes. This time, it's the ill conceived "Oh My," which flops along with a clunky outdated beat, rock guitars, white-girl raps (yep, you heard right) and an annoying melody.
Still, it's not egregious enough to tank the otherwise good album. It is, for the most part, melodically memorable and impeccably elegant.
-- Bao Le-Huu
, Orlando CityBeat Writer