Saint Etienne - Finisterre

By liz

Saint Etienne - Finisterre
(Mantra - UK Release 30 Sept. 02)

"Baby nothing lasts forever."

So one child, two marriages and two years later, they return. Their lives have been all about change, and titling their newest release 'Finisterre' (the end of the world) is a departure from the escapism of 'Sound of Water'. I was not a huge fan of the last album. I needed them to get that German minimalism out of their system, as I've always loved St. Etienne for that perfect pop song they're able to write. If I'd wanted to hear To Rococco Rot with Sarah singing, I'd find a bootleg mix. They've gone a bit further back to their roots with 'Finisterre'. It's always intriguing to me which influences they're wearing on their sleeves during each album. The campy Dusty and Motown influence of 'Good Humor' was such a departure from the Pet Shop (and Beach) Boys perfection of where they'd started with 'Fox Base Alpha' and 'So Tough'. I feel like this disc melds all their musical passion into one glorious beat box anthem.

"Our father who art in heaven, please, stay there."

The first thing that strikes me as distinct about this disc is the between track banter. Notorious for strange samples used as a mood blender, this is a bit different. As opposed to random comments about rum by Marc Almond or stolen lines from classic film noir, the "samples" on this disc sound more like snippets of some upcoming novel all narrated by the mature voice of Michael Jayston. There is definitely more of a story here than the previous cut'n paste utterances.

"Back in sweet suburbia, middle of the road, Iooking for the action everywhere I go."

The much anticipated 'Action' single (and track one on 'Finisterre') IS the summer anthem I was looking for. Finely layered and building to a fabulous climax, this song will get you off your ass and up on the dance floor. The toe tapping and head bopping is contagion itself. As I sat on a plane 30,000 miles up, it's was hard to sit still... and at only 8:30 in the morning after a long night of drinking. I can already imagine the remixes that'll hit the dance floors of Ibiza and Berlin soon.

"I loved to draw when I was a little girl. It helped me see the world the way that I wanted it to be."

Perhaps the boys have gotten tired of cult obscurity in England. With 'Soft Like Me', they've written a song that could give the Kylie a run for her money. Working with British rapper Wildflower, Sarah's harmonic chorus is offset by the harder-edged hip hop rhymes during the verses. The only thing holding back this track for overplay on XFM is the length. At 4 and a half minutes, it might lose the interest of the casual radio listener, but that's what radio edits are for right? The amazing thing is that they didn't only put up one radio friendly track, there are several. I've never heard material as commercial friendly from St. Etienne before. Tracks like 'Shower Scene' and 'Action' could actually take the band from cult status to ACTUAL pop stars. Perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself because I want to see Sarah's face plastered over all those stupid Kylie adverts. Then again, I've never understood why they weren't already gazillionaires and flying around the world on a Tiffany blue private concorde.

"The boys are back in town and nothing can stop us now. Oooh, this is our wall of sound."

Two years is a rather long wait for new material from one of the busiest bands in England. The time seems well spent, as the coats of noise are so perfectly applied it would be impossible to peel apart the wall of sound. It's so perfected, I almost wonder if they had resorted to using a paint-by-numbers formula on the past few albums. As always they employ some new tricks, different sounds and instruments. The overall popish flamboyance made it fun to simply watch my equalizer bounce along with each song. It's not entirely rhubarb and custard keyboard music anymore, there's a fair amount of guitar work (including an appearance by Jez of the Doves).

"Could it be we'll stay together, will I ever know? If this night could last forever, maybe then I'll know."

So, onto the end of Saint Etienne question. I have to firmly take my place in line as a fan and say that I hope this album isn't broadcasting the finale. I can understand where the 'last album' question is coming from. Other than the finite nature of the album name (and last track), there is an element of fighting back and wrapping up lose ends. While I hope it's not because they want to move on to greener pastures, it does make this one of Saint Etienne's most solid releases EVER. This album wouldn't be a bad note to go out on. But if they are making music this good... why? Perhaps music isn't all they want out of life anymore... but I don't think they are willing to cut their losses yet.