thu 13/06/2024

CD: Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne

CD: Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne

The pop-loving indie kids return in reflective mode

Saint Etienne: mapping out musical obsessions with verbal verve

If you are old enough to recall the heady excitement of running out of breath as you hurtled to the record store to buy a single on the day of release Words and Music by Saint Etienne will strike an instant chord. This deliciously melancholic concept album is a love letter to the manic pop thrill of music and the way it can overshadow everything and offer a means of emotional escape.

As Sarah Cracknell dreamily sings on the statement-of-intent opening track "Over The Border", as a teenager she knew she should have been studying for her mocks but instead "just wanted to listen to Dexys, New Order, anything by Postcard". Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs might come across at times as inky-era NME-hooked musical snobs, but for them pure pop does not have to appear on an independent label endorsed by John Peel. Tim Powell, of hit factory Xenomania fame, produced the thumping upbeat track "Tonight", while the heady Eurodisco of "Popular" pays homage to the simple pleasures of squeeze-me-please-me chart tunes such as that long forgotten 1976 number one "Mississippi" by Pussycat. A theme here is pop’s healing power, which beats penicillin any day. "The Record Doctor" has a single for every occasion: "Give him a problem, he'll cure it by song."

Saint Etienne has always been an intriguing band, picking up the baton of literate, suburban pop from the Pet Shop Boys and adding their own nerdy twist to it. Musically Words and Music... is no great advance on their established template. There are familiar hints of house and balearic beats, while "I've Got Your Music" is positively Kylie-esque in its sexy breathiness. The main attraction is lyrical, with Cracknell concluding that contrary to expectations, as one ages pop can become more rather than less essential. I'll drink to that as I put this record on again.

Follow Bruce Dessau on Twitter

Watch the pre-Sarah Cracknell Saint Etienne perform "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"


Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters