Posted in Album Reviews

Pet Shop Boys – Introspective/Further Listening 1988-89 (2018)

In the mid-80s, Pet Shop Boys’ sophisticated blend of electronics and classic songwriting was leading to smash hits around the globe.  Following up their UK #2 album Actually, they released Introspective in October of 1988.  With radio playing the shorter single versions, the album flips the script by having the longer dance versions on the album including a medley of hit single “Always On My Mind” and a previously released B-sides in extended form.  Even with the unusual track listing, Introspective is the second biggest seller of PSB’s career.

The band’s first singles collection, Discography, is one of my all-time favourites but the tracks from Introspective rank as some of my least favourites. Presented here in extended form allows them to breathe a bit more.  “Domino Dancing”, their last top 20 hit in the US is the most improved by this approach.  The Latino horns mix with an extended percussion section before a piano appears to make the listener’s hips sway. “Left To My Own Devices” adds extra lyrics not included the single version but still contains the classic line “In the back of my head I heard distant feet/Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat”.  The music fades out at 5:35 to feature a terrific piano beat.

Initially given to Patsy Kensit’s band, Eighth Wonder, the PSB version of “I’m Not Scared” is what they do extremely well; dramatic lyrics with a (harder) electronic beat.   “Always on My Mind/In My House” is more minimal and gives less focus on the strings than the single version. The second half amps up the house elements and repeats “always” throughout before the first track reappears in full glory.  “It’s Alright” starts out with a bit of gospel before the frivolous lyrics of wishing music to save the world comes through.

The best versions of these songs appear on the album so the Further Listening disc here is not as strong as the first disc.  The demo version of “Domino Dancing” floats by (in a good way) and two versions of its Spanish/Western influenced B-side “Don Juan” appear. The jaunty chorus of “What Keeps Man Alive” sounds plucked from a West End musical whereas “I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)” and “One of The Crowd” (with its lyrics about fishing) are made for the dancefloor.  The disc ends with the beautiful and touching ballad “Your Funny Uncle” about the funeral of a friend who sadly passed away from Aids.  Such as it is with this period of Pet Shop Boys, even the lesser tracks are worthy and there are several diamonds scattered here.

Introspective – 9/10

Further Listening – 7.5/10

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Favourite Distant (Re)Discoveries 2018

5. Paris Angels – Perfume (Song): When going down a YouTube rabbit hole late one night, we discovered this lost track from the early 90s Madchester scene. We like to consider ourselves fairly up on British guitar bands from that era but had never even heard of this band before. With well over 200K views on YouTube, it is not obscure by any stretch and the anthemic quality to the track is a good reason why. The “loved up” version on Apple Music is the one to get.

4. Pet Shop Boys – Please/Further Listening 84-86 (Album): Over the past two years, Pet Shop Boys have been re-releasing remastered versions of their albums along with B-sides and rarities discs. The first album in their long career,Please provided a worldwide smash hit in “West End Girls”, a handful of great singles, and memorable album tracks. The second disc is a strong collection of dance mixes and B-sides almost as good as what appears on the original album (“In The Night”, “Was That What It Was?”).

3. Paul Simon – The Paul Simon Songbook (Album): Taking advantage of sales and gift cards, we picked up both the Simon & Garfunkel box set as well as the solo Paul Simon collection. While the S&G debut failed to deliver, many of those songs appear on the Paul Simon Songbook a year later in better form (“The Sound of Silence”, “He Was My Brother”) along with acoustic version of future classics (“I Am A Rock”, “Kathy’s Song”). The recordings are sparse and at times Simon delivers them by spitting out the lyrics but this album helped gain a following in England and superstardom back home was only a few months away.

2. Lily Allen (Feat. Giggs) – Trigger Bang (Song): Right at the end of 2017, Allen released one of her best singles in years. A brief intro by Giggs before the lady herself steps in singing about her past party lifestyle. As with her best songs, “Trigger Bang” was self-aware with a chorus that sticks in the head for days.

1. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 2CD Deluxe (Album): This was an easy one. Released in November of 2017, I received this at Christmas last year and started listening in early 2018. The original album continues to be a wonder and the new remix by Giles Martin/Sam Okell make it even more so. After listening to the album for the 1000th time and just when you think it couldn’t get any better, “A Day In The Life” appears at the end. The second disc of different recording takes with new versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” was better than most rarities collections. It is one that will continue to get played for years to come (see: the title track, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” and “Getting Better”).

Posted in Album Reviews

Pet Shop Boys – Actually/Further Listening 1987-88 (2018)

petA year after their debut Please came out, Pet Shop Boys released a synth pop masterpiece with Actually. Retaining a similar album cover to their debut, this time around Neil Tennant is featured yawning on the but with what is contained inside, that reaction could not be further than from the truth. Side one is flawless. The spikey, dance track “One More Chance” opens up the album before second single “What Have I Done to Deserve This” comes in. Featuring 60s star Dusty Springfield, this #2 on both sides of the Atlantic became a radio staple throughout the mid-80s and fit in very well with other duets at the time from George Michael/Aretha Franklin, Michael Mcdonald/Patti Labelle, and the Dirty Dancing tracks.

The heart of the record is in the next three tracks – the retail critique of “Shopping”, the dour yet sophisticated “Rent” and upbeat “Hit Music”. On side two, the UK #1 “It’s A Sin” symphony effects underlay lyrics that rail against the church claiming that everything the band does is a sin. With a Nesfaratu-like video guaranteeing plays every Halloween, “Heart” was the duo’s last UK #1. Album closer “King’s Cross” is PSB’s first great ballad, a classy affair that lays the ground work down for “Being Boring” a few years later. Even with the success of “West End Girls” two years earlier, it took Actually to firmly push Pet Shop Boys into being a true pop hit contender rather than a mere curiosity or one hit wonder.

The further listening disc presents numerous remixes and B-sides. Whereas the original is more meandering, the “One More Chance (Seven Inch Mix)” is more direct with a driving beat. The Shep Pettibone remix of “Heart” adds shimmering synths and electronic steel drums. It’s a full two minutes before “It’s a Sin (Disco Mix)” becomes familiar to listeners and the extended version of “What Have I Done…” is a keeper. “Always on My Mind” is presented here twice but the original single version released during this time period is missed and could easily have been added. Unlike the extras presented on Please that reworked many tracks to great effect and added B-sides that were almost as good as the A-sides, somehow the extras here seem less essential and less fun.

Actually – 9/10
Further Listening – 7/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Pet Shop Boys – Please/Further Listening 1984-86 (2018)

21wRzvYVqCL._AA327_QL65_British music icons, Pet Shop Boys, have been recording music for more than 30 years together. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe released their first album Please way back in 1986. Preceded by the single “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” the year before that withered on the charts before disappearing, the duo returned with the classic techno pop single “West End Girls” that went to #1 in both the UK and coveted US market. A grey sky video shows the pair walking around parts of London which captured the eye and ears of this young writer (I was 11 at the time) and may very well have influenced my eventual move to the UK for a couple of years after university.

“West End Girls” is one of the most memorable singles of the 80s and appeared as song one on the band’s first greatest hits compilation, Discography. Three other tracks from Please also made the cut on that album including “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” whose re-released version made it into the top 10 in the US, the sort of ballad “Love Comes Quickly”, and “Suburbia” (presented here without the single’s memorable barking dogs). Superb album track “Tonight Is Forever” appears after this run of singles. It would be hard to keep up the momentum and that is what happens with last four fine but non-essential tracks.

The 2018 Further Listening version comes with an extra disc of remixes, 7”/12” edits, and B-sides. Two versions of “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” are included with the 12” version being the preferred. “West End Girls” appears in a dance mix that ups the percussion ratio to floor filling effect. B-sides include the “Blue Monday” sounding “In The Night”, upbeat “Was That What It Was” that could easily pass as a single and the dance track “Paninaro” presented here in it’s Italian Mix. The Further Listening disc of non-album tracks shows that there was very little drop off in quality from the excellent debut, Please.

Please – 8.5/10
Further Listening – 8.5/10