Tales from Turnpike House

Predicting how a new Saint Etienne album is going to sound is getting as easy as forecasting rain for London. Leaving 2002’s Finisterre — a disjointed attempt at bland ’90s Euro electro — behind, Tales from Turnpike House sees the band return to their winning, yet calculated formula of danceable pop tunes that give way to gentle, acoustic numbers. Though North Americans have never properly been able to classify their sound, having homes at stereotypical labels from the edgier Sub Pop to the current Savoy Jazz hasn’t helped much either; like the milk bottles and Sainsbury grocers they sing about, they remain quintessentially British at heart. Thus, Turnpike is their London concept album, built around stories of life in one of those bland, urbane buildings clung to the side of highways that imagine were the real reason why Ricky Gervais would never leave the office. "Sun in My Morning” and "Dream Lover” are some of the prettiest songs in the Saint Etienne catalogue, and dress Sarah Cracknell’s charming vocal delivery in breezy, acoustic guitar, light flute sounds, and band-mates Bob Stanley and Pete Wigg’s best Pet Sounds impression. "Oh My” may soon have Gwen Stefani lining the band up for production work and Cracknell, perhaps having seen the film Secretary, cleverly rhymes: "She wouldn’t go with Brad Pitt if you paid her/she’s more into James Spader.” And "Stars Above Us” has the classy, late-night disco groove that has helped Kylie sell a million records. Hey, it was at least eight albums before Everything But the Girl blew up with "Missing,” so Saint Etienne could have their turn yet. (Touchstone/Buena Vista)