My Albums of 2012 – No. 2: Saint Etienne ‘Words and Music’

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You will have already seen my review of Saint Etienne’s ‘Tonight’, which was one of my songs of the year. If the award was for best album cover of the year Saint Etienne would walk away with the prize. It looks great and you could spend hours working out all of the pop references. It’s an apt cover as well, because this is an album that revels in the love of, well, words and music. It’s a soundtrack to the lives of music-lovers, although it’s probably better suited to those over 25. However, this doesn’t stop it being a great album, in fact it’s a paean to the continued power of music in people’s lives – music is actually a better experience for those with a little bit of experience.

If this sounds like the boring ramblings of a man approaching 30, then, well, it might just be, however, this is not a boring rambling record – it’s a joyous, brilliant pop record. It’s an album that ponders the question of whether music can still have the same effect on you when you’re older, and answers that question with an emphatic “yes it bloody well can!”.

The opening track, Over The Border starts with a recollection of a group of older kids going around to Peter Gabriel’s house, goes on to remember watching Top of the Pops (“I used Top of the Pops as my world atlas” is such a glorious lyric) and taping the charts, discusses the fetishisation of music writers and record labels; basically it plots out the life of a music lover, with warmth – and a cracking chorus. ‘I’ve Got Your Music’ is a giddy celebration of headphones, looking at the act of listening to music alone with a misty-eyed wonder at having music “everywhere you go”. ‘Record Doctor’ is an a cappella hymnal to that friend who can always pick the right record at any given moment. There might not any song quite as funny as the Red Hot Chili Pepper dissing on 2005’s ‘Teenage Winter’ (the kicking off point for this record), but that doesn’t seem to matter when the lyrics and references are this absorbing.

Musically, it’s probably the band’s most commercial record in a decade – mixing Xenomania pop productions, balearic dance, the dreamy pop of the Carpenters, the stately pop of Blondie and Pulp into a heady, effervescent rush.

It may be that this is a record that cannot be loved by a casual music lover, in the same way that a Taylor Swift or Hot Chip record might, but for a music lover like me, this record is nigh-on perfect fodder. As a testament to the redemptive power of music, I cannot think of a better album.

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