File this one under geek love. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I developed an inexplicable fondness for Saint Etienne. I had heard the name thrown around a lot and read a thing or two about the band, though I had never actually heard them, until I caught “Lose That Girl” on a late night radio program early that summer. There was something pure and joyful about that song that many other bands I listened to couldn’t touch. The driving beat, the funky bassline, the catchy piano — it had me hooked. I had to track down a copy of Good Humor at any cost. Unfortunately, at the time it was only available as an import on Creation, forcing me to shell out 15 quid for the damn thing. As fate would have it, it came out on Sub Pop a couple months later in the states. Dammit.
Regardless, Good Humor was well worth the investment. The packaging, first of all, is among the best I’ve ever seen. And the songs, of course, were brilliant, from the Bacharachian pop of “The Bad Photographer” to the downtempo of “Woodcabin” to, of course, “Lose That Girl.” I fell in love with their sound and found myself buying their past albums Tiger Bay and Foxbase Alpha. I dug these albums as well, though I found them stuffed a little too full with filler, making them more frustrating listens than I had hoped. It seemed like the band needed a good singles collection, as they had plenty to offer in the hits department. Alas, at the time, there was none.
The more I heard from the group, the more I liked. But, still, it was always the singles that truly caught my attention. So imagine how stoked I was to find out about their new hits compilation, Travel Edition, just released on Sub Pop. Finally, a Cliff’s Notes for Saint Etienne, a truly gifted and underrated band whose discography is a little too large and unwieldy for most listeners to navigate. Not to mention that some of them are out of print. But here is a document that compiles the best that Saint Etienne had to offer us in the last fifteen years.
Every era of the band’s career is represented, from the kitschy dance beginnings of Foxbase Alpha to the more electronic side heard on Finisterre. It’s a particularly long compilation and only gives us a fraction of the band’s output, but the songs included here are definitely among the best. There are old favorites, like the dancey cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” the psychedelic and flute-centric “Nothing Can Stop Us,” the infectious “Mario’s Café” and the booty-shaking “Hug My Soul” and “Like a Motorway.” And then there are more recent gems like the loungy “Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi),” the spy-theme worthy “Goodnight Jack” and, you guessed it, “Lose That Girl.” Listening back to these songs, I had forgotten how brilliantly the band combined loungy technicolor pop with club dance music. It’s a simple idea, certainly, but nobody does it better than Saint Etienne.
Though Travel Edition is undoubtedly the first stop in anyone’s journey into Saint Etienne, their studio albums shouldn’t go ignored. I did say that some of them have a bit of filler, I admit it, but it’s hard to beat the quality of albums like Good Humor and So Tough, which contain several essential songs not covered here. Nonetheless, Travel Edition is one of the best things to happen to music this year, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like best-of compilations.
Stars – Heart
Cinnamon – Courier
Pizzicato Five – Happy End of the World
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.