Archive for the ‘Pet Shop Boys’ Category

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Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys in Toronto

September 27, 2013

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Pet Shop Boys // Electric Tour // Sept 25 2013 // Sony Centre for the Performing Arts // Toronto

I’d been waiting (somewhat passively, assuming it’d never happen) to see Pet Shop Boys live for over 25 years.  So for me to be disappointed they’d have to be pretty terrible and put on a spectacularly poor show. Which, of course, they weren’t (terrible) and it wasn’t (poor) and I wasn’t (disappointed).

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Pet Shop Boys: Electric (2013)

July 9, 2013

pet shop boys electric

Roll: N/A, obligatory PSB review
Album: Pet Shop Boys, Electric

Usually with a new Pet Shop Boys album, what I end up doing is after an initial few listens is I make an alternative playlist with the best four or five songs, the best of the (usually superior) b-sides and a few remixes I prefer to the album versions. I’ve done that with every album since Release (2002). They basically did that themselves with Release on Disco 3 (2003), actually.

Electric appears to be the first album in years I won’t have to do that with as it sounds, more or less, like one of my own custom versions.

But there’s just no pleasing some people.

Now that PSB have finally delivered the hardcore techno/house record I’d been begging for, I’m wondering where the songs are.

It comes off a bit like a compilation of the best fillers from their first four albums might. Which, at worst, makes it a pretty damn fantastic synth-pop record.

In many ways it bears the closest similarity to Relentless, the bonus EP that came packaged with initial deluxe versions of Very (1993). Fans loved it because it was an experimental club-oriented alternative to the main album’s radio-oriented pop. Any lack of “pop” on Relentless could be overlooked since Very simultaneously dished it out in spades.

There is no Very to accompany Electric.

Not that there necessarily needs to be. The album is choc-a-bloc with bona fide thumpers—exactly like what the doctor ordered. Yet even on their spottiest albums, there’s at least two or three out-of-the-park winners (pun not intended) just from a songwriting perspective.

Fundamental (2006) had “Minimal” and “Integral“, Yes (2009) had “Did You See Me Coming” and “The Way It Used To Be“, and Elysium (2012) had “Leaving” and “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin“—all songs that rank with the best of the Tennant/Lowe songbook. While there’s some great tunes on Electric, there’s no spectacular tunes.

That said, Electric is their first album since Nightlife (1999) that, after a few complete run-throughs, I can listen to with skipping three or more tracks. Which should be expected considering there’s no room for fat with only nine songs.

A quick track-by-track run-down:

1. Axis: The semi-instrumental intro track. Very Kraftwerky, very retro. So retro it might have sounded a bit old-fashioned in 1986 even (not a criticism). It’s feels almost like an overture to a musical or ballet about robots so it’s a perfect tone-setter for the album.

2. Bolshy: Not sure what they’re trying to say with this song. Hooking up on the dance floor with a communist or something?  Is that a metaphor? Whatever it is, it’s the signature PSB combo of intellectual themes and straight-up dance beats. Bit of an acid-house feel.

3. Love Is A Bourgeois Construct: Ditto on the “combo of intellectual themes and straight-up dance beats.” Sticking with the Marxist rhetoric of the previous track, it sounds like something that might have been a too-intellectual-not-pop-enough b-side in the nineties. Kind of nerdy. In some ways, this is the most Pet Shop Boys thing they’ve done since Bilingual (1996). The men’s chorus à laGo West” is a real “give the fans what they want” moment. Almost too melodic in it’s own anthemic way.

4. Fluorescent: An example of a brilliant PSB-side. Fuzzy techno that sits somewhere between “Minimal” and their stellar Fundamental era b-side “Blue On Blue“. Could almost have fit on Please (1986) or have been a b-side from their 2003 non-album singles “Miracles” and “Flamboyant“. One of my favourite tunes on the album.

5. Inside A Dream: Also a bit like “Minimal”, the rolling bassline reminds me of “Left To My Own Devices” which isn’t a bad thing. There’s a classic early-PSB chime hook.

6. The Last To Die: The albums only misstep in my opinion. Sort of a victim of the Coldplayization of pop music. Reminds me of PSB’s cover of “Vida La Vida” from their Christmas EP (2009). My only “skipper”.

7.  Shouting In The Evening: The vocal effect is really odd sounding, but in a mostly good way. Pretty hardcore techno song. More relentless than Relentless. Sounds like one of their Yes remixes, which is a good thing.

8. Thursday: The same basic beat and (perhaps exact same) chord progression as “Loves Comes Quickly” (1986). Intentional? Ironic? Nonetheless, a really good Hi-NRG disco track—complete with a classic Chris Lowe “counting” vocal—that’s not quite as good as “Love Comes Quickly”.

9. Vocal: A nice ode to themselves, it seems. “I like the singer/He’s lonely and strange” sounds a lot like Neil Tennant is singing about Neil Tennant. Which is fine, but humourous. The chord progression/bassline sounds a lot like their 1989 hit “It’s Alright” but like a mid-90’s techno remix with some intense synth stabs. Not the kind of  song you get tired of. Repeat worthy. Sort of an abrupt end to the set though, making Electric feel more like a playlist than an album.

Aside from slightly relentless (again, pun not intended) intensity, my main criticism of Electric isn’t a criticism of Electric at all, but rather of the Andrew Dawson produced Elysium. It’s really too bad that Elysium‘s best material hadn’t been recorded in these sessions with Stuart Price.

If “Memories of the Future“, “Requiem”, “Leaving” and maybe even “A Face Like That” and “Your Early Stuff” took the place of “The Last To Die”, you’d have, hands down, one of PSB’s best 13 track albums with all the changes in dynamics, texture and mood that made Please through Nightlife pop masterpieces.

But don’t take my word for it, Electric is streaming HERE. Listen for yourself.

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Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (2012)

September 11, 2012

Pet-Shop-Boys-Elysium-album-coverRoll: N/A (obligatory PSB review)
Album: Pet Shop Boys, Elysium

A lot of the Internet chatter leading up to the release of Elysium (it was streamed at the Guardian) has been that it’s reminiscent of Pet Shop Boys 1990 album, Behaviour. Personally, I don’t hear it. What most comes to mind for me is Release (2002).

I suspect what people are actually latching onto is the cover art is the most similar to Behaviour‘s—the the inset white field over the photography is roughly the same ratio (give or take a centimeter) as the inset photography on the white field of Behaviour‘s cover (though reversed, obviously). This is my theory anyway as the albums sound vastly different in tone and production to my ears.

Elysium is also being hailed as their most holistically well-conceived and executed album since Behaviour. Having just read Pet Shop Boys Vs. America, wherein the Boys lament how they feel Behaviour was their first failure (commercially and artistically) as an album, I find this a little humourous. In a wry manner appropriately ironic for the duo, naturally.

Behaviour was certainly the point in which I lost interest in PSB for about four years. I enjoyed “So Hard” quite a bit, but I felt they’d gone off the boil with the rest. I wanted more “Left To My Own Devices” and the straight ahead, yet cerebral, house of Introspective (1988). I was in high school and I wanted an upbeat album that could compete with with the muscular rhythms of Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb and not, apparently, songs like “Nervously”  and “Jealousy” or the other soppy, down-tempo, soft-rock/R&B numbers.

It wasn’t until quite late in 1994 (or early 1995) when I realized the album I’d ignored upon release, Very (1993), was very, very good indeed. It was then that I gave Behaviour another listen (perhaps my first proper one) and realized it’s certainly another of their classics (though a lesser classic). Where it really suffers is in a few uncharacteristically dated production flourishes (for instance the 80’s hip-hop style guitar stabs on “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?”). Even their quintessentially 80’s “West End Girls” has always managed to remain relatively fresh-sounding in a way much of Behaviour doesn’t. This could be because it was the first album that felt like they were trying to fit-in with the artists they were rubbing shoulders with in the charts instead of just being, unapologetically, themselves.

Elysium gives me a similar feeling. The production sounds so now it almost sounds dated already. Or, perhaps, I’m just a codger who doesn’t really like what pop music sounds like in last days of 2012 and wishes PSB had stuck with the slightly retro (but still progressive) sound of their last few albums.

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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).

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Very Late and Increasingly Redundant 2011 List, part 2: 33 Disappointments and Sleepers

January 19, 2012

While writing my 25 Best Albums of 2011 list, I came across a bunch of also-rans on my iPod and CD shelves worth mentioning, for better or worse. Some are forgotten gems I really wish I’d remembered in time to include on that list (perhaps taking Björk’s place) and some I just hadn’t gotten around to listening to in time (Veronica Falls, Still Corners, Weekend).

Well, I’m writing about them now. And just to be a jerk, or for my own amusement, I’m going to assign each album a disappointment rating ranked from zero to five.

0 = not disappointing at all (buy it now!)
5 = absolutely gutting to listen to (run away!)

Akron/Family: Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT

The title says it all really. Whenever a band subtitles an album with some random gibberish, you know what you’re in for—some seriously pretentious wanking. In actuality, this isn’t nearly as bad as all that. But the band has lost some of the homegrown, organic enthusiasm of their earlier recordings. It almost sounds like Pro Tools is to fault here; a little too much of the Miles Davis, On The Corner-style editing the best bits of separate jams to assemble various tracks. Whether or not this was the case, that’s how the album sounds. A little too dense and a little too hands-off. Compared to Love Is Simple, the hooks and the warmth just aren’t there. On the other hand, compared to whatever flavour of the month lo-fi indie-psych album is currently hot (Sun Araw?), this is brilliant prog-psych by the contemparary masters of the field. Too bad their earlier work is just so much better. Disappointment rating: 3/5

Amiina: Puzzle

It’s hard to say if Amiina make music that’s too cloyingly sweet or if it’s too stereotypically fey for an Icelandic band. Perhaps both, perhaps neither. They definitely straddle a line and may or may not be tilting towards the wrong side of it. Whatever the case, it’s a line made of harp strings with  chimes and elfin voices dangling off it. And it’s a line that is drawing an enchanting picture. Perhaps a little too perfect and a little too cleanly rendered, but beautiful and soothing all the same. Besides, when you’re trying to kick an addiction to chemical sleep aids, you’re going to want an album that’s doesn’t challenge your senses to lull you to a cozy slumber. Disappointment rating: 2.5/5

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Pet Shop Boys: Nightlife

June 25, 2011

Roll: 3-10-1
Album:
Pet Shop Boys, Nightlife.

In 1996 Pet Shop Boys released Bilingual which would end up being not only my favourite PSB album but one of my top-five favourite albums of all time. So when Nightlife came out a few years later, it was the first PSB disc to initially disappoint me upon release since Behaviour (1990). I don’t remember exactly what my problems with the classic Behaviour could have been, but I remember feeling that, at first blush, Nightlife felt a bit listless and that Neil Tennant was becoming an intolerably heartbroken old curmudgeon. Of course, this was before they released the truly dismal acoustic-rock tinged, Release (2002).

Hindsight and relativism can paint an album in a different light. Lately I’ve come to the opinion that, far from being a disappointment, Nightlife is actually one of their strongest albums, packed with hooks, infectious beats and their trademark wry couplets.

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Pet Shop Boys: Very/Relentless

April 18, 2011

Roll: 2 – 10 – 20
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?

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