After the relative commercial disappointment of 1990’s Behaviour album where only one single reached the top 10, British duo Pet Shop Boys released one of the best hits compilations, Discography. The album featured their cover of U2 staple “Where The Streets Have No Name” and closed a chapter on the first part of their career. It would be a very different musical landscape the lads would return to in 1993, as grunge dominated America and the first roots of what became Britpop were starting to take hold in the UK. No one would have guessed the triumph that would arrive in the lego-like CD packaging of their fifth album, Very.
The only PSB album to reach #1 on the UK album charts, the album is both a coming out for Neil Tennant and a euphoric rush with several dancefloor hits. First single “Can You Forgive Her?” explodes out of the speakers with short symphonic stabs and biting lyrics of a troubled relationship that carried the duo back into the UK top ten. The line “She’s made you into some kind of laughing stock/because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock” still stings nearly 30 years later. “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing” is upbeat and infectious dance pop where Tennant actually sounds happy as it sailed to #2 on the Billboard dance chart. “A Different Point of View” is a harder edged track where Tennant contemplates “If I’d say black was white, you’d say it was grey/But in spite of being treated this way/I still dream of you all night and day”
“Dreaming of the Queen” and “The Theatre” are atmospheric and dreamy with a touch of darkness, especially on the latter where the chorus spoken from the point of view of London’s homeless fumes venom. “Yesterday, When I was Mad” returns to the dancefloor with compressed vocals and amusing quotes about touring musicians. Pet Shop Boys turned in a cover of The Village People’s disco anthem “Go West” for an AIDS charity that eventually went to #2 on the UK singles chart. Their version slows the song down and adds much humanity and emotion which hints and both gay liberation and the opening of Russia to the rest of the Western world. It is a very effecting track that continues their streak of expert cover versions. While Very is more heavily loaded at the front with memorable songs, it mixes the theatrical, pop and dancefloor on one of PSB’s finest releases.
The Further Listening compilation is a bit more hit and miss than past collections but still includes several highlights. The 7” of “I Wouldn’t Normally…” ups the BPM and adds Beatlesque horns. “Too Many People” is a slick dance track where Tennant sings about having many different identities while “Shameless” celebrates plastic C-list celebrities that would further increase with the rise of social media. “Decadence” has a bouncy synth buried in the mix that is more effecting than it’s A-side ballad, “Liberation”. After remixing blur’s smash “Girls and Boys”, Pet Shop Boys close out the disc with a live cover version.
A year after releasing, The Man Who Sold the World, David Bowie returned in late 1971 with his first truly great album, Hunky Dory. An eclectic album that takes in a wide range of styles, one The Beatles had done so well in the 60s and blur would do in the 90s. First song and single, “Changes” signifies Bowie’s chameleon like stylings. This enduring track was both his first official US single and also the last song he performed in concert. The horns and piano make it punchy while Bowie delivers one of the finest faux stutters this side of, “My Generation”.
“Oh! You Pretty Things” touches on both Nietzsche and Alesteir Crowley while Bowie wonders – “Oh, you pretty things/don’t you know you’re driving you mamas and papas insane?” “Kooks” is a charming track written for newborn son Duncan where Bowie amusingly suggests that the lad “don’t pick fights with the bullies or the cads/cause I’m not much cop at punching other people’s Dads”. “Fill Your Heart” is the only track here not written by Bowie, one that let’s the listener know that “love cleans the mind” which is in contrast to the more serious and inward looking “Quicksand”.
A memorable dual acoustic guitar along with a snapping beat powers “Warhol”, a track that the artistic legend was reportedly not fond of. Bowie also references Robert Zimmerman throughout “A Song For Dylan” before presenting the Velvet Underground swagger of “Queen Bitch”, one of the finest album tracks here. MGMT would later ape the sound of album closer, “Bewley Brothers” where Bowie references his brother as the acoustic guitar swells in the chorus.
The space dreaming lad from Brixton once again looks skyward on one of his finest singles, “Life On Mars?”. One of Bowie’s most popular songs, he brings together various dreamlike imagery to wonder what life is like beyond our dreary lives. On both this single and the album, Hunky Dory is a giant leap from previous releases. It is on this landmark recording that Bowie really starts to find his voice on a set of songs that still sound fresh and new to this day.
It was almost a year ago that 26 year old Phoebe Bridgers released “Garden Song”, the first track from 2020’s Punisher album. The track is emblematic of the rest of the album that features many lowkey songs that are good, funny, and clever in parts. “When I grow up, I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life”. “Moon Song” is slow moving that casually mentions, “we hate Tears in Heaven/but it’s sad that his baby died”. The pace quickens on second single “Kyoto” that displays an indie rock touch.
The last time we hard from Bridgers was as part of the boygenius trio along with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker who make an appearance here on the banjo lead “Graceland Too”. “Chinese Satellite” sees the drums buried in the mix while Bridgers sings, “I want to believe/instead, I look at the sky and feel nothing”. The music here resembles one another, where the album stands out is on the lyrics. Punisher was a critical darling appearing on virtually all the year end polls. A few good tracks with several memorable lines that will cause genuine listener smiles is where Punisher really stands out.
In the summer of 2020, Taylor Swift stunned everyone by surprise releasing the album folklore. The album topped both the charts and was high on year end critics’ polls. In another surprise twist, Swift pulled the same trick and released it’s sister album evermore. Once again using Aaron Dessner from The National as a main producer is a continuing departure for the country pop star. The sole track done with long time favourite Jack Antonoff is a stunner, “gold rush” compares “your hair falling into place like dominoes” over a drum machine beat.
Throughout the album, her lyrics and storytelling are often picture perfect. Swift visits her country origins on several songs including “champagne problems” where the protagonist turns down a marriage proposal and imagines another girl will “patch up your tapestry that I shred”. First single, “willow” is laid back and compares her man to a number of different items. “marjorie” is reportedly about her maternal grandmother who was an opera singer and how she left “all your closets of backlogged dreams”.
Like on folklore, Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver makes an appearance on the title track which also features a beautiful piano line. The National’s Matt Berninger has been making the duet rounds recently and appears on “Coney Island” while sister group Haim appear on the crime story of “no body, no crime”.
Along with a Disney + release of the folklore special in November 2020, this release of another 17 songs included in the deluxe copy from December shows just how busy Swift was during the pandemic. Whereas folklore was consistently great, evermore is consistently very good. There is a wealth of riches to be found in both release as Taylor continues to expand her sound and empire.
In about a week’s time, Bruce Springsteen’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. turns 48 years old. Produced by first manager Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, the Dylanesque album was first rejected by Columbia Records owner Clive Davis which forced Springsteen back to writing two additional songs that would then become the singles.
“Growin’ Up” starts with a stark piano before it starts to pick up steam through the first verse where Springsteen declares “when they said, ‘sit down’ I stood up”. According to setlists.fm, this is the song from the album that still gets played live the most and is a great introduction to The Boss brand of songwriting. “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” features no chorus but one can hear the roots of the Hold Steady taking hold. Throughout “For You”, the music strips away leaving just Springsteen singing before the drums of Vini Lopez revs the music back up again. The horns of Clarence Clemons and handclaps in the chorus elevates, second single “Spirit In The Night”.
The most famous song here is “Blinded By The Light”. The wordy first track and single failed to chart but is punctuated with horns and the breakdowns are a soulful delight. It would take a slim lined version by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to bring out the hit potential and remains Springsteen’s only US #1 as a songwriter.
Where the album slows is on the more earnest tracks with just him and either guitar or piano. “Mary Queen of Arkansas” drags on for five long minutes while “Lost in the Flood” does slightly better describing a veteran returning home. It is not a coincidence that the Essential Bruce Springsteen album from 2003 rescues the lighter, more brisk tracks and leaves the rest behind. A decent debut with several bright spots that will start to burn brighter in just a few years.