The lovable pop trio are back: Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell with here their ninth album. St. Etienne began life in 1990 with Wiggs and Stanley originally just wanting guest singers. But in 1991 after hiring Cracknell who sung on the brilliant Nothing Can Stop Us she stayed and the rest is pop history. They were around at the time of 90s Britpop but never quite fitted into that mould with their own version of 60s pop/dance music writing their picture postcards of life.
The home counties are the counties of England that surround London. In Home Counties St. Etienne ponder on their own home area and the boredom of suburbia. Nineteen tracks cover the stories behind the people who live here. I love the piano intro of The Reunion which reminds me of a church hall meeting. Something New is the excitement of a teenage girl staying out late and escaping for a few hours. It has a lovely Beatle-esque flute sound.
Magpie Eyes has a catchy electro-beat. Whyteleafe recalls what David Bowie’s life would be like if he’d have stayed just ordinary David Jones with a desk job. It brings to mind a kind of Billy Liar character (with his big dreams, but given the opportunity to leave his town he doesn’t take it and so stays put). A song of stultified potential. Dive is classic St. Etienne with a real disco vibe to it. (Think Donna Summer/Thelma Houston). It has a cheesy vibe like a 70s-game show but that’s what I love about it.
Take It All In has a beautiful bass line on it that is exquisitely 60s. It’s reminiscent of their 1998 album Good Humor such as the track Split Screen and has a harpsichord effect like a Bond movie theme. I love the sound bites of Popmaster. “You could win either a digital radio or a Bluetooth speaker” and Sports Report. Underneath the Apple Tree has a Northern Soul/early Motown feel that makes you really want to get up and dance whereas Heather has a haunting beginning, not surprising as it references the Enfield Poltergeist. It has a great thumping beat to it (is this meant to mirror noises made by a poltergeist I wonder?) Unopened Fan Mail has a lovely acoustic feel to it and another great thumping bass.
Overall Home Counties reminds me lyrically of Pulp’s His and Hers album (such as Acrylic Afternoons). Sweet Arcadia recalls David’s Last Summer. The protagonists live in a monotonous existence and make their own entertainment. My favourite kind of writing (whether poetry or lyrics) is generally about normal average folk and their dreams. As with the Kinks, The Jam, Squeeze and Pulp the Home Counties covers this all in its everyday glory including the frustration of commuter living. But St. Etienne happen to make it sound oh so cherry sweet.