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.
Over the past couple of years, Pet Shop Boys have re-released all their albums up to 2013’s Electric. This website has been going back and reviewing all these releases with the last being 1990’s Behaviour last December. In the midst of this, the new Hotspot album appeared online so we jumped in for a listen.
Several of the tracks have a harder hitting dance sound like first song “Will-o-the-wisp” that could have been released in the 90s or “I don’t wanna”, a dance track about not wanting to dance before the protagonist finally relents. Second single “Burning the heather” features Bernard Butler on acoustic guitar is a wistful track where Neil Tennant sings “the seasons are changing, time’s moving along” which is in stark contrast to the house-y dumb fun of third single “Monkey business” about 50 year olds out for a night on the town.
The best tracks here are the slower more atmospheric sounds that Chris Lowe creates on “Only the dark” where “only the dark can show you the stars” and second song “You Are The One”. The album closes with another highlight that was a gift for friends many years ago about their “Wedding in Berlin” that uses parts of “The Wedding March”. Pet Shop Boys have said that this is the last of a trilogy with Stuart Price producing. It’s dance music for 50 and 60-year olds that shows that there is still plenty of life left in the duo.
Pet Shop Boys fourth album Behaviour was released in October 1990 but I did not pick up the original release until the mid-90s. By then BritPop was in full swing and it was all “lager lager lager”. The mature electronic songs of betrayal that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe presented here seemed out of step with other pop music when I bought it the first time around. Co-Produced by Harold Faltermeyer, this was the release I was most interested in for the Further Listening series to see what I missed the first time around.
The first disc presents the remastered version of the original album with most of the songs touching on love but from different angles. “To Face The Truth” is an excellent album track with genuinely moving lyrics. “You know it hurts me when you lie, sometimes it even makes me cry, cause I’m so in love with you”. “When we fall in love there’s confusion” is the excellent chorus in “This Must be the Place I waited Years to Leave”. “The End of the World” downplays romantic quarrels over a crisp drum beat.
The songs that pulled from here for the Discography Complete Singles Collection released in 1991 are the best tracks and a step up from the Introspective album singles that precedes them. “So Hard” is one of Pet Shop Boys hardest driving songs as two lovers fight over whether one has started smoking again. Mostly just percussion during the verses, the synths get expansive for a few seconds when Tennant sings “tell me why, don’t we try?” “Jealousy” was one of the first tracks the duo wrote back in 1982 and features a devastating chorus as one person sits and waits up for his/her partner to come back home again. The true centerpiece of the album is first song, “Being Boring”. Barely scraping into the UK top 20 at the time, it has been a firm fan favourite ever since including for this writer who used in a poetry assignment in grade 11. Updating the nostalgia of The Beatles’ “In My Life” for the HIV epidemic era, the lyrics of “all the people that I was kissing, some are here and some are missing” are particularly heartbreaking.
As with other releases in the Further Listening re-releases the second disc is devoted to different mixes of the hits and corresponding B-sides. For Behaviour, the second disc often outshines the original album by extending “Being Boring” to nearly 11 minutes and adding a new middle section to “So Hard”. Sweeping strings and a Beatlesque trumpet announce the beginning of “Jealousy” before it goes into the more familiar track. Also included is the 1991 cover of U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You)” that amps up the tension by extending the beginning of the track.
The Morrissey baiting “Miserablism” was to be put on the original album but wrongly held off as it would have been one of the better album tracks and act as a perfect foil after “So Hard”. “Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend” could have been a single and would have been a floor filler at clubs in the early 90s. Two versions of “DJ Culture” appear at the end as does the 12” version of “Was It Worth It” both of which made their debut on Discography. The latter fairs better but two versions of “DJ Culture” is not needed. Better is the throbbing bassline in the Chris Lowe sung/talked “We All Feel Better In the Dark (Extended Mix)”.
Going back and reevaluating Behaviour to discover some very good album tracks is the great thing about these types of re-releases. The Further Listening disc is the best one released thus far in the series and is at times a more engaging listen than the actual album. The B-sides are superb and the extended versions mostly improve but never takeaway from the originals. This was another fine release for Tennant/Lowe.
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