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Pet Shop Boys: Format

May 18, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Format 2012Roll: N/A (obligatory PSB review)
Album: Pet Shop Boys, Format (B-Sides and rarities 1996-2009)

When Format was announced I was ecstatic that I’d finally get Pet Shop Boys’ 2010 UK Record Store Day 7″ tracks “Love Life” and “A Powerful Friend” in a physical format. Other than it’s a  fait accompli that I’d be buying Format regardless, this was the only real reason for me to pick up the nicely boxed 2-disc set. I already possess all of these tracks (except the one previously unreleased track, “Nightlife“) on various singles and bonus discs.

But then I noticed the collection only goes up to 2009. I guess I’ll have to wait another 13 years before getting those two tracks on CD (if CDs even exist in 2025).

Other than that minor quibble (grumble grumble), it’s nice to have these tracks compiled into one place without having to shuffle a bunch of singles to rip them onto a playlist. Which is what I’ve done with these two discs anyways. Though I’m a fetishist for the physical format, I still do the majority of my listening on MP3.

So really, as with their previous b-sides collection, Alternative, it’s the track-by-track commentary in the booklet that makes the package a treat for a Pethead. I wish they’d include these types of interviews in the liner notes for all their (new) albums. I’d like to know the stories behind the songs off Fundamental and Yes.

Though it’s debatable how much insight these notes actually provide. As I’ve noticed before in interviews, Chris Lowe amusingly has almost no recollection of recording any of the songs. If it’s not a song they play on tour, it seems to slip his memory. Neil Tennant remembers the songs but couches everything he says in so much vague ambiguity, it’s hard to actually pick any meat out of the anecdotal soup. Still, it’s always nice to hear (or read) them chat. They’re great chatters.

Also, like with Alternative—or any b-sides comp—the material is a bit “Hit and Miss” (pun intended).

On the low end we have the really unfortunate sampled guitars on “The Truck Driver and His Mate”. They keep referencing Oasis in the liner notes but it sounds like a Shania Twain track and is perhaps the most dated thing they’ve ever done. At least it’s gotten out of the way early, being the album opener.

On the high end are tracks like “Blue On Blue”, “Transparent”, “The Resurrectionist”, “Bright Young Things”, and “Party Song” all of which are arguably better songs than anything off their last two albums. They’re the sort of classic Pets pounders that make you wish the Boys would record at least one more straight-out house album—all pop, no art. (To borrow the concept from one of their best-of compilations. Or would it be the other way around?)

I noticed a few b-sides from the Nightlife era are missing, Both covers versions, I believe. There’s no mention in the notes why these were omitted though since both discs clock in at the CD maximum obviously something had to be cut and, naturally, Tennant/Lowe compositions are going to take precedence. I haven’t cross-referenced my singles to see if anything else has been left out (nor am I going to) but nothing jumps out as a glaring omission.

Reviewing this set is ultimately a little pointless since it’s one for the fans who are probably well familiar with the majority of these tracks already. It’s also a bit too unwieldy (and uneven) for the casual listener. A single disc version highlighting only the best of these tracks (“Delusions of Grandeur”, “Lies”, “Blue On Blue”, “Up and Down”) might have been a more successful venture, but would have then annoyed the hardcore Pethead. I guess that’s why we have iTunes.

Format is what it is. Quite excellent, most of it.

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