By the time this came along (a Sub Pop release, of all things, in the U.S.), the throwaway goofs as well the lengthy soundscape exercises had all but disappeared, and we were essentially down to the songwriting, ever the sweet spot (I insist) with Saint Etienne. For that reason, perhaps, this may well be my favorite of theirs, at least among the ones I know well. I must say that I still don't understand the appeal of So Tough, which it seems to me has only the oily surface sheen working, but very few of the internals, and thus remains almost entirely incapable of landing a punch. And I suppose it's arguable enough that we're down to Eurotrash with this—the one time I saw Saint Etienne was during this period, the late '90s, and they were clearly too fashionable for the tiny club setting, which isn't to say they couldn't send electric charges of musical gesture surging into the crowd. But, sure yeah, this verges on the kind of territory once staked out and claimed by ABBA, marked by the glow of production values, sultry keyboard figures, and Sarah Cracknell's little-miniskirt-girl-lost vocal affect. Consummate professionals at this point, the sheer weight of their experience carries the burden, and sometimes it feels like they must have been writing these songs in their sleep, from straight out of their dreams, and that there might yet be storage-space units somewhere stuffed with more of them—they sound at once manufactured and lovingly tended. I have gravitated most to the deceptively hard-hitting "Lose That Girl," with the singer a disinterested friend trying to steer her pal away from an ongoing disaster that has just ripened to bursting, and to "Erica America," which effectively, even poignantly, evinces the paradoxical sadness and loneliness of fun times in a land that stretches to the horizon. This is why kids run away from home. But they are equally songs that shuffle has made a point of drawing to my attention. When I listen to the whole album in sequence I hear moments to recommend everything here, and I have also found the CD a highly useful feature in the car. Good stuff.