Saint Etienne - Home Counties
Saint Etienne return with their ninth studio album, firmly at home again with their original label Heavenly Records. Since the early 90s, the trio have been blending their eclectic influences from 60s soul and rock, disco, 80s dance and acid house, resulting in getting lumped together with whatever trend happened to be going at the time. Home Counties is much of the same fusion of influences, with strong instrumental writing and arrangement and Sarah Cracknell’s hushed tones, but it sees the group hitting a strong and clear direction.
If, like myself, you grew up in the home counties then Home Counties will resonate on several levels. Harking back to youthful days of walking through leafy woods before returning to the manicured conformity and boredom of the suburban home, all the while the bright lights of London tantalisingly close but far. The album looks at the comfort and rejection of the counties surrounding London, equal parts safety blanket and straitjacket, punctuated with BBC Radio announcements and Radio 3 classical tracks, during which you almost expect The Archers theme tune to strike up at any minute. Highlights include the hushed French disco pop of ‘Whyteleafe’ which tells the tale of the disconnect from the big city hub, all the while wishing that your small town would hold the same sway as “Paris in the 60s”, the funky clavinet, wah guitars, horns and bass lines of ‘Dive’ creating a Studio 54 floor filler, the Serge Gainsbourg soul of ‘Take It All In’, and the 60s psychedelic pop meets public transport proposals of ‘Train Drivers in Eyeliner’.
The overall feel of Home Counties is nostalgia and the unreliability of rose tinted glasses. Saint Etienne have always had that aspect present in their previous releases as far back as debut Foxbase Alpha, but where their focus had been locked into the London-centric Swinging Sixties, Home Counties expertly casts that gaze outwards to the leafy suburbs, the dreams of escapism, and the melancholia. As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again”.