It's hard to believe that Saint Etienne have been around for two decades and there is something heartwarming about their longevity, despite their obvious awkwardness. To this day, they remain something of enigma and certainly hard to pin down.
Revisiting their back catalogue is an interesting experience: although there are no revelations as such, it does give you the feeling that there is more to them than you might have thought. You could argue that there was always something of style over content about them, and that their best tune Only Love Can Break Your Heart was their debut single and not even theirs, but Neil Young's. Yet, when it works it, they can be irresistible; the early singles (Nothing Can Stop Us, Avenue) still sound completely fresh; a seamless mixture of 60's Pop, contemporary production, with their tongues slightly in their cheeks.
On subsequent singles they would sail so close to the edge of straight chart Pop, that it's indistinguishable from the 'real' thing. He's On The Phone, one of their most memorable tunes could easily be mistaken for Stock, Aitken & Waterman era Kylie Minogue (unsurprisingly they even ended up collaborating with her), which is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your point of view.
Later tracks, settle into a more laid back and cinematic sound. With which they seem to become more comfortable in their own skin; Bad Photographer in particularly is great. They took this to its logical conclusion with their album and film Finisterre and also a greater sense of documenting their London surroundings, from which this compilation draws its name.
Although it's hardly going to win over a legion of new fans, London Conversations is well worth looking at. As a compilation, it documents their evolution brilliantly and certainly paints a vivid picture of what they are: an inventive, brave band you should cherish; bless 'em.