November 23, 2004

Saint Etienne "Travel Edition 1990-2004"

First things first, shall we? There's no way to capture the greatness of Saint Etienne on one disc. Like many of their influences (Beach Boys, Bacharach), one disc filled to the brim is only going to offer only the briefest of highlights, and someone somewhere will always grumble about the tracklist not being complete or fairly representative or missing one or two killer songs. (I unapologetically include myself in that category.) Considering Saint Etienne's prolific nature and their prediliction for obscure releases, it's not a real stretch to say that they're the indie/dance-pop equivalent of Guided By Voices. (I'd rather look at Sarah Cracknell, though!)

Greatest hits records do serve a purpose, though, and that's to either wrap up an excellent career or to introduce a band to an audience who might have missed them the first time around. To be fair, Saint Etienne's had a long, interesting career, but when it comes to America, they've spent more time flying under the radar than they have flying high in the pop charts. As Europe's much more varied and receptive to Saint Etienne's style, consider Travel Edition. 1990-2004 to be a wake-up call of sorts, a reminder that there are some really great pop bands that have thrived without any spotlight.

While I initially grumbled over the tracklist, I'm not that unhappy with it, because there's simply no way a pop-music lover could ever be unhappy with Saint Etienne. In fact, consider Travel Edition a nice little reminder of what makes them so special. Besides, when was the last time you heard their breakthrough "Only Love Can Break Your Heart?" Why, that's too long! Listening to it thirteen years later, it's amazing how fresh it still sounds. Heck, many of those early songs like "He's On The Phone," "Like a Motorway" and "Avenue" transcend dance-pop's curse of sounding dated. Later songs like "Sylvie," "Burned Out Car" and "Heart Failed In The Back of a Taxi" find the band maturing into a sound that's all their own while still retaining that pop element that made them so great in the first place.

Okay, so Travel Edition 1990-2004 might not satisfy this purist's needs, it does provide the one thing the younger generation needs: a proper American introduction to this really great (and sadly unappreciated) band. There are some really, really wonderful pop songs to be found, and though you'd need more than one disc to fully try to capture the genius of Saint Etienne, the utter brilliance of these songs make this compilation utterly necessary. (PS. The only other complaint I have is there aren't enough pictures of the gorgeous Ms. Cracknell!)

--Joseph Kyle

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