We all know the kind of places Saint Etienne visit. Or we know about them, at least: locations found only in films from 1964 starring Julie Christie, cafis with Formica furniture, clubs where you might catch a glimpse of a girl who resembles Twinkle. It’s always been hard to dislike the quaint, cool, retro myth of Saint Etienne, not least because if you do, there’s very little else to grab hold of.
For some, though, it’s not been hard to dislike the sound of Saint Etienne. Their last album, 1998’s ‘Good Humor’, despite being a quiet gem and by far their most consistent, was ravaged by those who couldn’t stomach a Cardigans-lite version of an already frothy sonic confection.
Opinions probably won’t be changed by this seven-track mini-album, a strange, shiftless stopgap before a proper LP is released later in the year. It returns to a more familiar sound, specifically since it showcases tunes reminiscent of those that languished at the end of ’93’s ‘So Tough’ and ’94’s ‘Tiger Bay’, those formless, drifting ambient-scapes that only served to detract from the perfect pop moments that went before. ‘Sadie’s Anniversary’ recalls ‘Hobart Paving’ (from ‘So Tough’) in its sparse Spector-isms, but lacks the latter’s gamine, girl-group shimmy. ‘Artieripp’ is a pointless dub blancmange, while ‘Ivyhouse’ threatens to blossom into some kind of ‘Marble Lions’ (from ‘Tiger Bay’) epic but ends up limp and lifeless.
The only track that emerges with a distinctive sound, and gives us hope for the future, is the minimal, looping ‘Garage For Gunther’, which doesn’t carry the weight of comparison to anything they’ve done before. A bit of a hollow victory, then, but you get the feeling this whole shambolic enterprise was never really meant to be heard. This is the world of Saint Etienne on their lunch break, and it’s worth dropping in, but it’s not somewhere you’d want to stay.