Saint Etienne - Finisterre

With pop music seemingly controlled by whichever TV Program happens to be running that week, it makes perfect sense that an altogether different pop music is on offer with the return of St Etienne. While they may of late be seen flirting with abstract electronica and french composers it's easy to forget that here are a band who rubbed shoulders with Kylie in the early 90s and can still write pop tunes that make S Club Juniors sound like an unholy dirge.

"Finisterre" is the long awaited follow up to "Sound Of Water", which saw them collaborating with To Rocco Rot, and while much of the electronica influence is still looming large over the whole album they've structured it into a digestable 3 minute pop formula. The great tragedy of "Sound Of Water" was that they disregarded the very factors that made St Etienne a great pop band - on the outset it was throwaway disposable pop, but with repeated listens the lyrics shined through a the simplistic marks of genius they truly were. On the albums title track it starts with the sample of "Natwest, Midlands, Barclays, Lloyds - use a bank. I'd rather die" before bringing in a electoclash beat and a diary entry from Sarah Churchill which asks us to look past "Big Brother and gossip culture" before the lush vocals of indie pop mother Sarah Cracknell come in for the chorus. It's where St Ettiene's head is at now - still pop and still as awkard as ever!!!

While electoclash looms large over the whole of "Finisterre" from the title track to "Amateur" and "New Thing", it's the more traditional elements that really shine. "B92" is the song that Bananaram never released and manages to name drop "The Boys Are Back In Town" and "Nothing Can Stop Us Now" into the chorus in that unique culture vulture style of Stanley and Wiggs. "Soft Like Me" follows in the tradition of old mixing up girl group harmonies with a rap from Wildflower and mellow hip hop beats laid on for maximum effect. As ever the heartfelt call and reply ballad "Stop And Think It Over" is in place for the last dance and recalls the classic lost "Good Humour" album.

At times you wish that St Etienne would go and make and out and out pop album which could change the way the face of British Pop in a way that makes Pop Idol look like the cheap talent show it actually is. It may be nostalgic, but I for one can't wait to hear another album full of songs like "You're In A Bad Way" or "Sylvie Girl" where they drop all attempts to appear credible and do what they do best. But for now "Finisterre" is a fine effort, which at it's very least will be an olive branch for fans who lost the way with "Sound Of Water" and hopefully rejunivate the bands interest in pure and adulterated 3 minute pop records, and at it's best is one of the most unique and inventive pop albums of the year.

Alex McCann

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