Saint Etienne  (named after the French soccer team) have always seemed at sonic odds among my favorite artists. While bands like Sonic Youth, Manic Street Preachers, and Fugazi rely heavily on guitars to tell their story, Saint Etienne are veritable genre chameleons, with a heavy reliance on pop and electronica. What has always made their sound special is the understanding that pop music is not simply a disposable commodity. It’s something that can be fun, nostalgic, and get your mind working all at once. And twenty-plus years on their still making songs that you get you to move and think.

This year saw their first proper album release in seven years, and that album – titled Words and Music by Saint Etienne – is there best release in close to 15 years, and may even be as good as their seminal album Tiger Bay.

Speaking of Tiger Bay, it was that disc that clued me into the trio 18 years ago, and tracks like “He’s on the Phone” and “Like a Motorway” still make London seem mysterious and cool to me, although now I’ve been to the city enough to know the real story.

While the newest album didn’t hit me right away, over the time, the “getting older, but not growing old” theme started to manifest itself. Things like going to the shows and noticing the crowds getting younger every year, and thinking about bands (like this one, for example), that folks don’t seem to appreciate any longer. But I’ll save all of that stuff for my albums of the year list.

This Saturday in Los Angeles I see Saint Etienne for only the third time – the first times came on the same tour in 1999, in Philly (TLA) and DC (9:30 Club). A lot has changed since then. Now I can legally drink and I’m married, but luckily I’m not carrying around any extra weight.

The first two videos below are from the band’s latest album, and the other three are classics from earlier albums.


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