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Rhythm & Views

Saint Etienne

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To fend off the cold, cold winds of December, wrap yourself in Saint Etienne. Travel Edition, the British band's first Stateside best-of compilation, knits the sweetest and catchiest tracks off of the band's 14 records into an 18-song-long scarf that is so warm it could melt snow and grow flowers and grass.

The record begins with a previously unreleased track, "Primrose Hill," which is an instrumental with layered, bright acoustic guitars, and then segues into the band's dance cover of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," from their first record, Fox Base Alpha. Travel Edition is chronological, and you can hear the band's development as the record progresses; the songs become less Erasure-esque and the synth sounds more ambient and creative. As the band moves from the simple, sing-song "Mario's Café" (from 1993's So Tough), to the electronic and almost dark tone of "Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi)" (from 2000's Sound of Water), Sarah Cracknell's vocals, along with the instrumentations, take on a more mature depth. The newer material, though, isn't as energetic as songs like "Avenue" (from So Tough) and "Sylvie" (from 1998's Good Humor); it seems that as the technical ability of Saint Etienne increases and the band gets older, the youthful cheeriness and punch decreases. But somehow, the warmth is still there.

Even though "Primrose Hill" and the second-to-last track, "Fascination," are the only songs on Travel Edition that aren't available elsewhere, Travel Edition is an express ticket to the best bits of Saint Etienne's body of work.

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