Let’s face it: B-side albums are pretty problematic. While the Pumpkins’ Pisces Iscariot and R.E.M.’s Dead Letter Office do have their moments, they don’t quite measure up to the a-side releases. Leave it then to a group of such talented popsmiths as Saint Etienne to surpass mundane expectations and come out with an amazing set of outtakes, b-sides, remixes and the like.
Coming up with a label for Saint Etienne’s music is difficult. Heavily produced and layered, it’s unmistakably European, but its emphasis on mixing ambience, lots of instruments and lite-electronica has always made it much more interesting then the Everything But The Girl crowd. With some arguable experimentation with trip hop, Interlude is noticeably less bouncy than the British trio’s last album, The Sound of Water. The band is not pining for any dance hall moments on this record, being content enough to let Sarah Cracknell’s sultry vocals float over the quirky loops, eerie synths and acoustic guitars of band mates Stanley and Wiggs.
Some of the tracks on Interlude rank up there as Saint Etienne’s best. The beautiful piano swoon of “Le Ballade of Saint Etienne” and the simple but effective “Shoot Out The Lights” showcase the group’s resourceful songwriting talents at its zenith, and yet these songs are b-sides. Some tracks show great promise only to end up meandering around in an unsatisfying, experimental murk. Still, this is also what makes Interlude so great, since you’re listening to this great pop group work itself away from the whole verse-chorus format and into a much more free and broad sonic environment.