One of the distinct advantages of crafting your sound from the remnants plundered by St. Etienne over the past 10 years (i.e. ’60s “swingin’” pop, exotica cheez, MOR electronica and other such post-ironic easy-listening faves) is that there isn’t a huge gap to bridge between the “kids just love us” period of your career and the “adults really appreciate us” period. With last year’s album, Sound of Water, and now its companion, Interlude, St. Etienne has bridged that narrow gap and has managed a neat little sleight of hand too. The trio of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and, of course, breathy English chanteuse Sarah Cracknell has started making music that has become what it once, lo those many years ago, referenced — sound track music, aural wallpaper, sparkly ephemera floating down rivers of twinkling sound.
On Interlude, a collection of B-sides from the Sound of Water sessions plus four new songs and some CD-ROM content, the boys and girl strike all the right chords and all the right notes on a handful of tracks. In the grooves of others, they take a chance on some more abstract noodling and insular sound waxing (aka ambient instrumental tracks) and manage a couple shiners.
The band also manages to pull off a spot-on Underworld impersonation or two and, regrettably, occasionally overstays its welcome.
Gone is the jet-set conjuring and tales of jealousies, rivalries that made Pulp such phenoms in the mid-’90s. In its place is the sound of warm water with occasional Jacuzzi jet pulses and the warm, fuzzy hint of narrative and storytelling (though distinctly less linear) courtesy of Cracknell’s sweet pipes.
These are lovely sounds from the minds of swinging London’s avant yesterday — you may not be compelled to charge an overnight passage on British Airways based on the sonic postcard St. Etienne has sent. But you’ll enjoy inspecting the photograph of the faraway from the comfort of your own home, trying to make out the brief, scrawled message on the back.
E-mail Chris Handyside at email@example.com.