“When I was married and when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be as important?” Sarah Cracknell poses the question in “Over the Border,” the first track of Saint Etienne’s eighth album, Words and Music by Saint Etienne. The song wonders if music obsession is an adolescent concern, and the band follows it with 12 more that answer with a resounding "No." The album has a crisp, expensive quality; pop that doesn’t need the “indie” qualifier. The London band were always something of a gateway drug for 90s underground rock fans, the slickness of their songs a half-step towards admitting you liked Kylie Minogue. Their latest is a meta-meditation on not just conceding to pop music obsession but basing your entire life around it.
A record entirely about the joys and pains of pop consumption has pretty low stakes built in. It’s not hazy like the pop emulations made by current indie kids, but despite its wistful detours there’s a pervasive weightlessness. And yet, there’s something so refreshing about a snarkless hit like “Tonight,” its narrator practically shaking with excitement at the prospect of seeing a favorite band in concert. You find yourself wishing she could be taken into protective custody to prevent her from ever learning about the Brooklyn Vegan comment section.