Album review: Saint Etienne – Home Counties
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You can count on few fingers the number of bands who’d be able to make you cry using the words “on the rail replacement bus”.
However long they stay away, each time Saint Etienne sweep through the door smelling of brandy and rain you realise their return was inevitable: they love their ridiculous, beautiful craft far too much for any hiatus to be more than a hangover.
Home Counties is Saint Etienne at their most various, stretching to 56 minutes and 19 tracks. Recall that at one stage of their career the film dialogue and overdriven field recordings threatened to swamp the blissful songs laid between them, but that long ago they learnt how less is sometimes more. It’s slightly alarming, therefore, that this record contains just as many interludes as the confusing (but brilliant) So Tough, and that Saint Etienne can no longer make 15 tracks feel like an EP. Never before have they needed two discs to cram it all in, and occasionally Home Counties does feel like slightly heavy going, Know Your Enemy rather than The Holy Bible.
But when they get it right few can match them, and this album will have you howling with laughter even as you worry about the cruelty of time.
Whyteleafe imagines Bowie as an exasperated office worker, and in so doing graciously pretends that any of us might have a dormant Thin White Duke coiled inside us - or that we might be squandering him.
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Dive is a thirst-quenching hit of Latin disco, and Out Of My Mind is what might have happened had OMD ghost-written Kylie’s Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi.
But the gem here is the sprawling, moody, half-spoken Sweet Arcadia - the only time Saint Etienne allow Home Counties the run of its running time. It closes the record with the sobriety of an off-stage comedian, like Neil Hannon at his best; like dormant laughter lines, or seeing your best friend dressed for a funeral.
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And now, with barely a moment to spare, you remember why you miss them so terribly every time they vanish for five years.