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St.Etienne are a band that have seemingly been around for ages but have never really enjoyed major mainstream success. That said, over the years they have established their own unique fanbase and released no end of albums that have earned them something of a cult status. The group is made up predominately by lead singer, Sarah Cracknell and former music journalists, Bob Stanley and Peter Wiggs.
Finisterre is the sixth offering in a long line of quirky, etheral albums (released in 2002) that attempts to take the band in a different direction to their previous releases whilst maintaining St.Etienne's unique combination of sound and style. This is demonstrated by the use of vocal interludes between each track voiced by actor, Michael Jayston. It is not the first time that St.Etienne have used such a bizarre tack; on previous albums the interludes have been provided by clips and random scenes from obscure sixties movies.
The album begins on a high; Action has a great electro-pop feel and beautiful lyrics that really get you going and promise much from all that is to follow. This is one of those catchy numbers that St.Etienne are famous for and which is certainly one of the best tracks on the album! Amateur, the next track, maintains this pace and is another great song that echoes the heady familiarity of its predessecor- a pace that slows down a tad with the third track, Language Lab; an instrumental that begins like the gallery music kiddies show, Take Hart back in the eighties and never really gets going for me. This is the first disappointment on the album and really misses the smooth and often haunting vocal talents of singer, Sarah Cracknell.
Soft Like Me is the fourth number and starts off very electro-pop and disco-ey too but then breaks into a kind of rap between choruses. This probably shouldn't work but it does and thankfully again the lyrics are very catchy and quickly become ingrained in your head. This, like the other vocal songs on the album so far, is one of those tracks you suddenly find yourself singing several days later without realising you are doing it until you catch yourself. It is very upbeat, very cool and is another very strong album track!
Summerisle slows things down a bit and is a bit more downbeat and this is followed in turn by Stop And Think It Over which is very distinctly retro and has a real retrospective feel to it. It almost sounds like it belongs in another era and though not one of my favourites, is still pleasent enough to listen to- making full use as it does of Sarah Cracknell's beautiful talents.
Shower Scene, the seventh track on the album, speeds up the pace again and is really dancey trancey with a funky, trippy feel. Lyrically, it is nothing special but then it doesn't have to be and evokes the familiar sounds of St.Etiennne as they were in the late eighties and early nineties. This is perhaps my fourth or fifth favourite song on the album and one I often skip to when I put the album on and need cheering up! It is as good an example of what makes St.Etienne great that you are ever going to need and again is very catchy and addictive to listen to.
The next two tracks, The Way We Live Now and New Thing respectively are ever so slightly weaker and don't do a hell of a lot for me I am afraid but thankfully the tenth number, B92, restores my faith in Finisterre as an album and is another smooth track that has a proper trancey feel to it again and more catchy lyrics that will resonate in your head long after the album's conclusion and is a real return to form.
If the last two tracks, The More You Know and title track Finisterre, are again quite downbeat and a little disappointing then that is no bad thing as this is an album that has just as many strong numbers, if not more, than it does weak ones. Finisiterre may feel a little at times like a bit hit and miss but hearing songs like Action and B92 makes you forget those tracks that might be, not bad exactly, but a little under par for such a tight ensemble.
Overall this is a relatively good buy if you skip over the few weak songs that don't totally reflect the strengths of the remainder of the album. It is probably not the best album to pick up if you are new to St.Etienne, aimed I felt more at their established fans who have been passengers on the group's journey for some time, but is certainly one that takes pride of place in my CD collection next to their other albums.
I only wish this group had more of a mainstream reputation but listening to a St.Etienne album does have the pleasure of feeling like you are part of an elite club made up by all their select fans and party to a secret many others are unaware of.
Finisterre is by no means the band's greatest album but likewise it is by no means their worst and is well worth a buy if you can get it under the full price mark!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Language Lab
4 Soft Like Me
6 Stop And Think It Over
7 Shower Scene
8 Way We Live Now
9 New Thing
11 More You Know