The trio Saint Etienne (songwriters/musicians Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley and vocalist Sarah Cracknell) has been a popular fixture in the British indie dance scene since the release of its debut album Foxbase Alpha in 1992. Combining '60s-influenced pop and the acid house rhythms of the British club scene, the band has scored with a series of successful European albums and singles. Saint Etienne has also earned critical acclaim and a loyal cult following in America (particularly in dance clubs), though U.S. commercial success has been elusive. Saint Etienne has released a series of strong albums since the early 1990s. Continental is a superb collection of mostly previously released material, and it's a nice introduction to their solid body of work. Their strong points are the combination of atmospheric (yet accessible) arrangements and Sarah Cracknell's '60s girl group cooing. However, her vocals are not derivative or cutesy, instead lending substantial personality to the material. "Burnt Out Car" and "He's on the Phone" benefit greatly from her performances, mainly because Saint Etienne rarely incorporates obvious pop hooks. Rather, the band relies more on rhythm and personality, making it considerably more complex than the average pop/dance band. Continental's best track is a house cover of Gary Numan's "Stormtrooper in Drag" (it previously appeared on a Gary Numan tribute album), which is odd in concept but surprisingly effective. Fortunately, Continental surrounds that tune with equally competent Saint Etienne originals. Any of the group's studio albums, particularly So Tough and Tiger Bay, will serve as a nice introduction to the band's music, since the trio's best albums stand on their own quite nicely. However, various collections of singles, remixes, and rare material have also been released, and Continental is by far one of the best. Highly recommended.
by William Cooper