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Pop Music | RECORD RACK

A beat on the future and on the past

January 22, 2006|Ernesto Lechner

Saint Etienne

"Tales From Turnpike House" (Savoy Jazz)

* * * 1/2

THE English trio who once wrote a song paying tribute to Karen Carpenter's hometown is still in love with the more baroque aspects of '60s-vintage pop. Jazzy flutes a la Burt Bacharach and Beach Boys-style harmonies abound in this impeccably produced album (in stores Tuesday), which abandons the experiments of 2002's disappointing "Finisterre" and returns to the miniaturist approach of the 2000 magnum opus "Sound of Water" -- an icy minimalism with infinite longing and tenderness breathing under the surface.

"Milk Bottle Symphony" may be all about wide-eyed nostalgia, but Saint Etienne also delves into ambient electronica (check out those astute, subtle bleeps on "Side Streets") and bits of Euro-trash disco. The combination of futuristic beats and retro harpsichord provides a perfectly bittersweet backdrop for Sarah Cracknell's crystal-clear vocals.

Fifteen years after its debut, the group has reached maturity in sound and songwriting. If it's pop craftsmanship you are after, few can equal this melancholy concept album and the sheer virtuosity of its hooks.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

Ernesto Lechner

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