ALBUM REVIEW: Saint Etienne – Home Counties | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

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Released: 02.06.17



Plenty of bands have been associated with our capital city over the years, from the nutty boys of Madness to the dearly missed queen of Camden Amy Winehouse, but few have ever written about London as incisively or as seductively as Saint Etienne. As much as their mix and match, indie-friendly dance pop has always absorbed and welcomed ideas and influences from across the globe – starting with the French city and football team that gave them their name – the fantasies and reality of urban life have always been their great muse. Not for nothing did they title a greatest hits collection London Conversations.

For their ninth album though, they pull their focus back from their home city to look at the towns and villages that birthed them – the Home Counties. Following the quasi-concept narrative of Tales of Turnpike House and the nostalgic bent of Words And Music By Saint Etienne, this turn away from the centre to the places where those London dreams are only dreams has been fairly well signposted. It’s still interesting to find a band that spent their youth extolling a kind of idealised adulthood now turn back to their childhood past in their maturity.

Musically, Home Counties’ procession of soft and stylish swooners finds the band hewing closer to the sweet acoustic balladry of Good Humor than they have done since: the likes of Unopened Fan Mail and Take It All In are stuffed full of the kind of gorgeous jazz chords that have never once been cool, but remain deeply satisfying all the same. Perhaps that’s for the best: when Saint Etienne launch into the electronic pop that was once their trademark, it’s bizarrely clunky – Magpie Eyes never takes flight, while Heather is a curiously unsatisfactory lead single.

At its best, Home Counties digs deep into character studies and intelligent arrangement to beautiful effect: Train Drivers In Eyeliner (a nod to the late, great Earl Brutus frontman Nick Sanderson) and the wonderful Whyteleafe are as empathetic and immaculately arranged as one might hope. It’s still startling however to hear these chart devotees make what sounds very much like a final farewell to pop music.

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