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Pet Shop Boys: Very/Relentless

April 18, 2011

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Result
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Very/Relentless by Pet Shop Boys
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Before the industry figured out that you can sell more units if you put out the “special bonus disc edition” of an album after the standard edition—forcing fans to buy both if they want to have the album right away and the bonus disc, which of course we all do—Pet Shop Boys released the initial run of their opulent 1993 album, Very, with an extra disc, Relentless.

It also featured some of the most innovative CD packaging, in both editions, yet designed. In 1993 people only just starting to think outside the jewel case box and Very/Relentless shattered that with its three-pocket, bubblewrap-esque sleeve. The subsequent single-disc edition of Very is, of course, the iconic orange “LEGO brick” design seen in abundance (5-million copies sold) at used CD shops worldwide.

Containing the hits “Can You Forgive Her”, “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing”, “Yesterday, When I was Mad” and their cover of “Go West”, Very is very much essential listening for even the most casual Pethead, but is Relentless, very?

The answer is “no.” Though Very itself is very dense and, frankly, relentless, Relentless isn’t very relentless at all.

At least not for an album titled Relentless. The concept behind the second disc is it’s hardcore dance floor music as opposed to the pop songs on the first disc, which is very Pet Shop Boys (see what they did there?).

The problem is Relentless relents. Though still one of the most abstract and flowing things the Boys have done, none of the tracks explode into pumelling hi-NRG beats but sort of float around the edges of hard-house and trance without really committing themselves.

Which is really only a problem with the title (more suitable to an album like Underworld‘s Second Toughest of The Infants) and not the music itself. The set would have been much better ironically titled Disco—the package then being titled Disco/Very, a pun they used for the tour, I believeonly they’d already used Disco as a title for their 12″ singles compilation. But, ever the urbane ironists, perhaps Pet Shop Boys meant Relentless to be ironic all along.

Continuing with the theme of irony, I don’t listen to Very very often because it is, as mentioned above, a tad relentless in its production. Elaborate orchestral arangements, thick beats, insanely hooky melodies, mens choirs and an underpinning of claustrophobic paranoia, all add-up to a relentlessly dense listening experience.

The Boys always have a punchy, high-impact/high-drama track or two on each album (“It’s a Sin”, “Always On My Mind”, “Love, etc”) but Very feels like every track is smacking you in the face with orchestra stabs and compressed kick drums. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch, but it can be a little intimidating when reaching for some light synth-pop to accompany your day.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, the album isn’t nearly as relentless as my subconscious is convinced it is. It’s really as introspective as any of their other albums, almost bilingual in the way it’s balanced between up- and down-tempo numbers. And the fact almost any of the tracks could have been a top-ten single release makes it an album which aims to please. Yes, it’s an album very much designed with nightlife in mind, but like most of their discography, its fundamental strength isn’t in its ability to party but in its concrete study of human psychology and behaviour. Setting Very‘s own virtues aside, the alternative packaging (pop-art in itself) for Very/Relentless is an essential artifact for any Pethead.

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4 comments

  1. I’m a PSB fan of long-standing and I bought Very Relentless on the day of release, having pre-ordered months in advance (it was actually quite a rare item at the time) and got one of the few copies in store, the rest having been kept for themselves by the HMV staff!

    Although I agree with a lot of your points, I actually think that Relentless contains one of the best PSB songs of all time: One Thing Leads To Another.

    A story told backwards, (if you haven’t already, listen to the lyrics from the end to the beginning…) and musically very unlike them at that particular time. Even now, with Very not being one of my most listened to PSB records, that track is still, to my mind, one of the best they’ve ever made.


    • You’re right, it is a great track. I hadn’t read the lyrics in reverse before and yes, they do work. Clever boys.

      As one Pethead to anther, what do you think of The Most Incredible Thing?


  2. Ah… I have not heard this yet. I thought the Battleship Potemkin soundtrack was really, really good but I’m not a ballet fan. CFS (Completist Fan Syndrome) will inevitably force me to buy the CD just because it’s PSB – but I’m one of the people that thought Yes was a bit average (apart from the near perfect The Way It Used To Be) and would like them to stop fannying around with quirky side projects and actually produce another album that is as wonderful as Actually or Behaviour.

    All their work has high and low points but I’ve felt they’ve been gliding along on neutral for a few years.


    • Between Yes and Fundamental (including b-sides) I think there was perhaps that album you’re (and I’m) looking for. I really liked “Blue On Blue” and “Party Song”. Maybe “Miracles” would have had to be included as well, though that’s stretching back nearly a decade now. “I’m With Stupid” was painfully… stupid.

      Bilingual is the standard I judge PSB albums, personally.



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