August 9, 2005

Review: Saint Etienne's "Tales From Turnpike House"



First, thanks to Turquoise Days for turning me onto this album. Check for MP3s of 2 tracks here.

Released in the UK in June 2005, Tales From Turnpike House is the kind of record I eat up: A pop concept album about a row of flats in a working class suburb of London. XO London indeed! Really, how could you not be intrigued by an album with a song called "Milk Bottle Symphony"?

Saint Etienne have been around for 15 years and they're a collectors delight, releasing more than one album a year at times, not to mention lorry loads of singles with b-sides. I've danced around them without actually buying anything except their Travel Edition hits CD, which I didn't like and promptly sold after ripping just 4 tracks.

Now comes Turnpike House, a fully realized indie pop record. They keep the album varied in tempos and styles. The aforementioned "Milk Bottle Symphony" features Beach Boy harmonies, while "Slow Down at The Castle" builds and weaves around a pretty acoustic guitar intro. It even has a verrrry Kylie-esque dance pop song from Xenomania called "Stars Above Us" done with Xenomania. Throughout, no surprise, the lyrics are distinctly English and reference all sorts of pop culture curios that Americans might need to research to understand.

"Teenage Winter" is reminiscent of the excellent (and recently deceased) Black Box Recorder's spoken word tracks. It's a great story of the dispiriting changes that take away a community's identity over time, like when the bakery is replaced by a tanning salon and....

Mums with push-chairs outside Sainsbury’s, tears in their eyes
They’ll never buy a Gibb Brothers record again
Their old 45s gathering dust
With the birthday cards they couldn't face throwing away


Sounds like me in twenty years.

The dud tracks here are obvious and I won't comment except to say that there are really only 2 (one being an instrumental). More often, the songs are subtle, mature, with accessible melodies and lyrics. There is a second bonus disc, an EP of tracks for children - yes! As Turquoise Days indicated, "Let's Build A Zoo" ("and fill it with animals!") will take over your brain for days. You can sing it to your cats and wave your arms around: I did and they paid attention!

If you dig this sort of Brit kitchen sink drama, you'd best check out the greatest hits of Pulp, who glitter-glued the genre to a wall in the 90's with their epic Different Class album.

1 comment:

Michael said...

It's nice to see a positive review of this album - there haven't been too many! It's not slated for a US release anytime soon so I may have to fork over the big $$$ for theimport version.