“I didn’t go to church, I didn’t need to,” Saint Etienne vocalist Sarah Cracknell murmurs on “Over the Border,” the first song on Words and Music by Saint Etienne. A beatific spoken-word recollection of how a fascination with Peter Gabriel’s house sparked a lifelong obsession with music, the song ends with a desperate query, “When I was married/ And when I had kids/ Would Mark Bolan still be so important?”
The London-based trio teases out the answer to that question over Words and Music‘s 13 songs. It’s a concept that could have easily devolved into a tiresome exercise in nostalgia, but Saint Etienne sidestep navel-gazing, framing their recollections against a glittering patchwork of dance music, Brit-pop and electronic textures. The result is an album about a near-sacred love for music that’s worth falling in love with.
A holdover from the breezy, pasted-together pop of their previous album, 2005′s Tales from Turnpike House, Words and Music skirts kitsch, even when relying heavily on vocoder-warped vocals during Euro-disco ode, “I’ve Got Your Music.” The real call to the dance floor, however, comes in the Tim Powell (Xenomania)-produced single, “Tonight.” A slow-burning anthem served with a side of house beats, the song perfectly captures the fluttering-pulse anticipation leading up to seeing a favorite band live. When Cracknell declares, “This could be my life, this could save my life,” her euphoria mirrored by a synthesizer crescendo, the sentiment feels impossible to deny.