Britain's premier dance-pop band of the 1990s; the Shangri-Las with synthesizers; the only group who can make you fall in love, break your heart, and dance your butt off simultaneously, Saint Etienne marked six years of consistent brilliance with a two-CD collection that pegged out 17 songs for the attention of the remix community, and wound up with a reinvention that defies any kind of categorization. Employing both newly commissioned mixes and older cuts drawn from past singles and such, Casino Classics was previewed with a bonus disc offered with early copies of the Too Young to Die hits collection -- the same disc's reappearance here did spike some grumbling at the time, but the entire package remains a virtual history of U.K. remix tendencies throughout the first half of the 1990s.
Contributions from the Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, David Holmes, Death in Vegas, Lionrock, and Underworld either predate or at least coincide with those acts' own mainstream breakthroughs, while Andrew Weatherall's "A Mix of Two Halves" assault on "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" spirals off Saint Etienne's first 12" single, released in summer 1990. Elsewhere, Monkey Mafia's revision of "Filthy," from a hard-to-find compilation, recaptures one of the group's earliest rarities, and a clutch of new songs -- "Angel," "Burnt out Car," "The Sea," and "Sometime in Winter" -- offer the unusual experience of hearing the remix before you've even encountered an original version. For anybody spellbound by the purity of Saint Etienne's "regular" releases, great swathes of this collection will certainly feel less than essential -- possibly unique among the club bands of its age, Saint Etienne works as ideally away from the dancefloor as it does on it, and hearing those exquisite arrangements and hooks hacked into electronic collops can be distracting -- maybe even infuriating. But, if you put your feet before your ears, Casino Classics has a perfection all of its own, and never a dull moment either.