WHERE WERE YOU IN ’92?
SAINT ETIENNE — ‘Home Counties’
THE GOOD: English indie pop outfit Saint Etienne enters a second quarter-century together with its ninth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Home Counties” is a loose concept album (aren’t they all?) focusing on stories and characters from the suburbs directly surrounding London. Here the inhabitants have a love-hate relationship with their environment — comfortable, yes, but also mundane. The songs reflect feelings of both familiarity and frustration. (I would imagine suburban life in the United Kingdom is pretty much like it is here except the houses sit closer together.)
Musically though, “Counties” is your typical breezy Saint Etienne album, the backdrops switching effortlessly between club beats and vintage pop circa 1970. The crackling basslines of “Unopened Fan Mail,” the semi-Baroque strains running across “Take It All In,” the funky thrust of “Out of My Mind” — all of it paints such vivid settings. Frontwoman Sarah Cracknell remains the most charming of narrators through it all with her wispy vocals still divine yet unassuming.
BUY IT?: Yes.
CHARLATANS UK — ‘Different Days’
THE GOOD: England’s Charlatans survives the passing of its long-time drummer Jon Brookes and regroups for a strong 13th album.
THE BAD: One could accuse the band of being stuck in “almost” the same place since its breakthrough debut, “Some Friendly,” way back in 1990. The formula remains intact, yet the tunes still satisfy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some high-profile fellow Brits make appearances here, including living legends Johnny Marr and Paul Weller. New Order’s Stephen Morris and the Verve’s Pete Salisbury handle drumming duties. Yet “Days” remains typical Charlatans (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Frontman Tim Burgess leans in for his cool, hazy lead vocals while the band churns out killer grooves that blur the lines between ’60s psychedelia and ’90s underground house. Better moments include the murky, haunting “Solutions”; the forward motion of “Not Forgotten” (a funky throwback to the band’s late ’90s heyday); and the delicately swaying, highly infectious “There Will Be Chances.” It all works; the band still is relevant in its comfortable surroundings.
BUY IT?: Sure.
RIDE — ‘Weather Diaries’
THE GOOD: Britpop/shoegaze act Ride comes back with its fourth album overall and first in 21 years.
THE BAD: Adjust your expectations. “Weather” is NOT a game changer or some massive, redefining comeback for the band. However, it IS a very good album that finds the boys succeeding at most everything attempted.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ride’s varied ’90s catalog saw the group experimenting with everything that was happening almost three decades ago. 1990’s “Nowhere” was one of shoegaze’s genre-defining records. “Going Blank Again” (1992) found more traditional rock elements sneaking into the mix. “Carnival of Light” (1994) was a psychedelic/Britpop hybrid. 1996’s “Tarantula” was the forgotten gem released after the band’s initial break-up and then deleted almost immediately.
Now “Weather Diaries” revisits what made each past album great while updating those styles. The trippy “Lannoy Point” comes together over a swirling groove. “Home Is a Feeling” finds a lilting melody combining with brash guitars. “White Sands” takes its time running across multi-layered changes in mood and tempo. All is fine.
BUY IT?: Yep.