No more than two seconds into Saint Etienne's latest album (their first in seven years), Words And Music (Heavenly/Universal UMC), angelic-voiced Sarah Cracknell opens "Over the Border" with a spoken-word confession over a soft acoustic guitar: "When I was 10, I wanted to explore the world." By the 30-second mark, after admitting she couldn't join the cool older kids travelling outside her hometown "just to see Peter Gabriel's house," she sets the tone for the veteran UK dance-pop trio's most engaging record since 1998's confessional Good Humor with the following: "I used Top of the Pops as my world atlas."
From there Cracknell details how the world came to her through music. She chronicles the albums she bought, her memorization of the British charts, hearing her first synthesizer, and how she first fell for a boy ("I knew he loved me because he made me a tape"). Music "would be there for me," she offers, "and when I was married, and when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be so important?" Only in the chorus does she admit, "I'm growing older."
Words and Music is more than a personal memoir; it's a universal appreciation and celebration of pop music and nightlife, toying throughout with the relationship between youthful indulgences and the one-way street of aging. Since forming in London in 1990 — an eternity ago in pop circles — the attraction of Saint Etienne's sound has always been emotional, personal. Now they're not only cataloguing their life experiences creating music, but also detailing how it shapes who you are as a person. "Bob [Stanley] came up with the idea, in a very broad scope, to write the songs about music," said Pete Wiggs by phone from London last week about his fellow Saint Etienne co-founder. "It was brilliant for inspiration. Because it's quite a broad concept, and it's something everyone can understand. It quickly became [about] how music can intersect your life. When people ask what are your favorite things, they almost always respond with something about music."
Single "Tonight" is a disco stunner about the excitement of seeing your favorite band play live ("Maybe they'll open with an album track/Or a top-five hit, no turning back," coos Cracknell). It's one of many magnetic tracks ("I've Got Your Music," "Last Days of Disco," "DJ") on perhaps the most intellectually engaging dance record of 2012, a result of what Wiggs calls "a mix of growing up being into Phil Spector and the girl groups of the '60s, then the early days of house. In house music, there's always that progression, building up of a dance floor, and then the drop of it back down again. It plays with your emotions. We wanted to do that in song."
SAINT ETIENNE + FREEZEPOP:: Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston :: October 27 @ 8 pm :: 18+ :: $20 :: 617.562.8800 or thedise.com
: Music Features
, Music, London, Good Humor, More