Saint Etienne

He's on the Phone

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Saint Etienne puts out a mostly smart quartet of songs, once again showcasing the gorgeous voice of Sarah Cracknell and the plaintive Brit-pop songwriting skills of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs, and Ian Catt. The opening and title cut, "He's on the Phone," is ironically the weakest of the bunch, flattened out by the techno act Motiv 8 in a generic house mix that has not held up gracefully over time. It has all the trappings of boring club filler, and evidence that not every song works for the dancefloor just because the drum machines are revved up. The label on the disc makes special note of guest performer Etienne Daho on this title cut, though the French popster barely mumbles a couple sentences before he's out of the picture. The remaining three tracks make up for the opening disappointment by taking a calmer approach, with songs presented in the manner that suits them best: simply, sweetly, and with a dash of melancholy for taste. "Groveley Road" hooks the ear with its simple orchestration and bittersweet resolution, filled out with subtle horn arrangements in the distance; "Is It True" reads like a majestic movie finale that barely goes beyond the piano for all its impact; and "The Process" is a soulful delight with a mid-tempo drum loop, electric bass, and '60s flute melodies -- enough to make you forget all about the tone this EP started with. That's not to say that Saint Etienne can't succeed on the dancefloor -- their album Tiger Bay from the previous year delivered some solid club hits -- it just seems that here it's a bit un-Motiv 8-ed.

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