Music — Hits And Misses On The Album Trail

Hits And Misses On The Album Trail

By Amy Diaz

Saint Etienne ***
Travel Edition 1990-2005
Sub Pop Records, 2004

Missed the 15-year career of electronica/pop/lounge artists Saint Etienne?

Here’s your chance to catch up.

More relax-to-able than dance-to-able, Saint Etienne’s songs are cool and bouncy — 1960s cocktail party meets late 1990s rave. Album standouts include the early-career cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and the fun “Avenue.” Later tracks run more toward the atmospherics, but, for the most part, avoid the trap of losing their focus in the novelty of invented sounds.

Wondering what to play at the holiday party that is hip but not alienating, fun but not too silly? Here you are.

VHS or Beta **1/2
Night on Fire
Astralwerks Records, 2004

Is it still 1983 in Louisville, KY?

VHS or Beta, the disco-like synth-heavy pop group, brings back memories of early MTV — all Talking Heads, Duran Duran and their post-disco, new-wave-ish colleagues. Though these boys hail from down south, their sound would be just as at home in that other Manchester some 20 years ago.

You’ll swear you’re hearing an old Depeche Mode b-side with tracks like “No Cabaret!” and “Alive.”

Not much in the way of variety — dance beat + synthesizer + nondescriptly Cure-ish lyrics = any given song on the 10-track album. And, sure, it can get a bit power-ballad (the pop version) at times, but the effort is overall a nice update of the Reagan-era tradition.

Fabolous **
Real Talk
Atlantic Records, 2004

“Keep that progressive sh** to yourself.”

This is how Fabolous starts his album and this is a pretty good measuring up of the album itself. No surprises, no curve balls — yet still, not bad.

Any one of the songs has a sort of radio/video potential — from the relatively straightforward “Ghetto” to the full-color cinematic “Breathe.” That none of these songs particularly blows you away — gangsta life is tough, we get it — is maybe not all that important.

Love-related songs such as “Baby” and “Girls” are thoroughly skippable but tracks like the vaguely Eminem-ballad-ish “In My Hood,” the entertaining obligatory rant at the police “Po Po” and the action-movie-ready “Do the Damn Thang” are all a light, fun listen.

— Amy Diaz

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH