Review: Saint Etienne - Home Counties

The 90s are back, which means the 70s are back. Just look at chokers. Jane Seymour used to make everyone salivate by sporting the neckwear, and then the 90s got obsessed with the 70s (or perhaps just Laura Prepon in a tight turtleneck), and using the every-other-decade rule that was proposed in Dazed and Confused (not coincidentally a 90s film about the 70s) our current decade is going to be stylistically influenced by the 90s, and of course the 70s. I notice this every time I am in a nightclub and am surrounded by chokers... which I am not complaining about. 

Saint Etienne was a 90s act that had an early 70s style that was executed with aplomb. They were the flagship act of the backlash towards grunge, which had reached critical mass by a certain point. The too-cool-for-Christmas crowds in the best international cities rejected the Donna Karan-izing of filthy hair and lazy guitar work, and instead put on mod suits, and listened to records like Bert Kaempfert, Nelson Riddle, and Les Baxter. They drank martinis, and they turned up their stuffy noses at anything that sounded remotely of Mother Love Bone. Saint Etienne, Pizzicato Five, and eventually the annoying ambiguous satire of Mike Flowers Pop, were into the finer things, and it was revisionist as well as of the moment. 

2017 therefore is the perfect year for Saint Etienne to release a comeback record. Hollywood is insufferably milking the 1970s with every release, and most music on the charts is a polished up version of trip hop, while those chart stars pay thousands for original Nirvana tees. Home Counties is a wonderful surprise for anyone who enjoyed Saint Etienne originally, and not even a bad record to get into first for the uninitiated. "Dive" bounces around for five minutes and yet still requires repeated listens as soon as it ends. "Out of My Mind" has the perfect vocal melodies that we all dream about when we think of this band. "Underneath the Apple Tree" utilized the classic Northern Soul beat, while the eight minute "Sweet Arcadia" starts with the same sounds as 10cc's "I'm Not In Love". The entire record is punctuated with lovely old British radio skits, which are usually used on full lengths to break up songs that all sound too alike, but not here. The varied moods and instrumentation across Home Counties treat the listener with respect; something often lost today especially by legacy acts. The whole record is worth a listen if only to be taken on a time capsule first to the 90s and then to the 70s, whereas usually an album only makes one stop in the wayback machine.

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