Sunday, November 11, 2012

Words and Music

With the year drawing to a close but not quite over, one could be premature in stating a pop album of the year, but it's a safe bet that mine is Saint Etienne's Words and Music (or to give it its full title, Words and Music by Saint Etienne). Over the summer and autumn it's been played incessantly in this household, not least by Naomi (8), which may say something about its accessibility. For most, it's probably the perfect Saturday late afternoon music, alongside the chart rundown (does this still happen?) and in preparation for a night out. But for us - who are a bit past it, or too young - it's Sunday morning music.
Cracknell, Stanley & Wiggs are also a bit past it, but their love and knowledge of pop, in all its myriad forms, lends a passionate, irresistible nostalgia to this their eighth album. 'Over the Border' discusses travelling to Peter Gabriel's house, ("Peter Gabriel of Genesis", Cracknell helpfully reminds us, for this is the early 70s). There are references to "green and yellow Harvests, pink Pyes, silver Bells" (record labels & Mike Oldfield's debut), "the strange and important sound of the synthesiser," and whether Marc Bolan would still be relevant to a grown woman married with kids. 'Popular' is about an internet message-board populated by people who want to discuss Pussycat's 1976 no.1 hit 'Mississippi' in depth. If you were brought up on prog & glam, or were obsessed with music whatever the decade, then these and many other more recent references will immediately resonate. But young people will 'get it' too. The melodies and production are very strong and the whole album is wonderfully uplifting. 
Paul Morley, the music journalist, who knows a thing or two about pop, also wrote a book called Words and Music, but though it shares this album's passion, it's a bit too clever for its own good. Saint Etienne's eulogy is from the heart rather than the head.

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