Pop: Back in the premier league

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It took St Etienne four long years to stop producing other bands and Sarah Cracknell's solo pursuit to go quiet for the trio to glide back with new album, Good Humor. As far as relaxed keyboardist Bob Stanley is concerned, though, it feels like the band never went away at all. "I think recording the album was a lot more straightforward this time, because we have been together for quite a while," he explains. "When we went out to Sweden to record it, we had already written all the tunes, but not the words. One person would come up with the basic idea, the other two would help finish it off. And why scoot off to Sweden? To use the famous Tamborine studios - recommended by a member of The Cardigans and apparently a household name among Japanese teenagers - which comes complete with its own house band. "I can't think of any other studio in the world which has got such a unique sound," he enthuses. "It made me think of what it must have been like going to Philadelphia in the mid-70s. I just like the sound, sort of dry, sparse and crisp. With the last album we had these huge arrangements and everything, but this is very much a stripped- down album," says Stanley.

But you'll spot many familiar St Etienne traits in Good Humor - Bob Stanley has a pop archive for a brain and employs it with devious sophistication, while Sarah Cracknell sounds as airy and sweetly poised as ever. But the creation of perfect synth-pop confection is less to the forefront, giving the songs a straightforward storytelling panache less reliant on big production.

But live is a different matter again, with nine musicians alongside Bob, Pete Wiggs and Sarah. "We have always seen the live thing as separate from the studio, and we try to do things in a different way," says Stanley.

While the band are already piecing together their next album, they are keeping their fingers crossed about fufilling their ambitions in the here and now. A summer megabash with Pulp is on the way and since they helped out the Sheffield troupe (along with Oasis) before they joined the superleague, they wouldn't mind a bite of the really big time as well. "We want a million seller in Japan, and a top-five record in England," declares Stanley. "Our albums usually hover around the top ten, so we want a top five. I hope we get it."

Shepherd's Bush Empire (0181-740 7474) 15, 16 May

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