You can always count on the Pet Shop Boys for pop that engages the brain, heart and dancing feet.
Here’s another jaunt into my 2009 attempts at journalism, looking at the Pet Shop Boys’ album of that year “Yes” and its extended edition “Yes, etc”. This was a celebratory era to be a Pet Shop Boys fan, with their Outstanding Contribution award at the Brits, fantastic gigs at the O2, and an album that stands up as one of their best. The below review was written in April 2009.
If you care about pop, as I do to perhaps unhealthy degrees, than a new Pet Shop Boys album is quite possibly the most important event on your musical calendar. Since 1985, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been feeding our addiction with intelligent, witty, sad, funny, beautiful and danceable pop songs. “Yes” is an exceptional addition to a catalogue already overflowing with unadulterated pop genius.
First single and opening track “Love Etc” is slightly reminiscent of their 1996 single “Before”. Light and fizzy verses are followed by a strident call and response chorus, with Neil’s excellently nonchalant vocals informing us how love is more important than fame, beauty, money etc. Which is a sentiment that should make you want to slap him for its triteness, but he makes up for it with the astute observation “you don’t have to be beautiful… but it helps”.
“All Around The World” commences with Neil chanting “oh wey-oh oh wey-oh!” over a Tchaikovsky sample, its insistent handclapping beat driving you through to the optimistic chorus. “Beautiful People” has a muted, full-band feel to it, and despite being nicely dark and moody it strides a bit close to the MOR end of the spectrum with its tasteful backing vocals, harmonica solo, and soaring violins behaving as though they think they’re soundtracking an 80s soap.
The next single will allegedly be “Did you see me coming”, which is a straightforward happy poppy love song with its gloriously trite opening line “You don’t have to be in Who’s Who to know what’s what!” A relentlessly cheerful song guaranteed to put a grin on your face. “Vulnerable” features a melancholy melody offset by a chugging synth line, with Neil’s vocals underlined by a tinkling bell sound as if to emphasise the fragility expressed in the lyrics.
“More Than A Dream”, despite being all about “believing in something magical becoming real” and rhyming “dream” with “seem”, is not remotely as derivative as its subject matter would suggest. It begins with some dark techno bleepery and growly noises, then breaks into minor chords and disco guitar. Then the power chords kick in and there’s some excellent “ah ah ah aahh”s at the end. “Building A Wall” gives us the rare treat of Chris Lowe vocals, as Neil and Chris open track shouting “detection! detention!” at each other. It’s a relentless vision of nostalgia for a lost Britain which never really existed. “I’m leaving the world, it’s all wrong” ruminates Neil, only to be told off by Chris: “Who do you think you are, Captain Britain?”
“King Of Rome” features a slow timpani drum beat, melancholy trumpet and some quite gorgeous falsetto from Neil. “Pandemonium”, on the other hand, is big and brash with its octave leaping synths, big brass blasts and exuberant “oooh!”s. “Is this a riot, or are you just pleased to see me?” asks Neil, brilliantly. The rogue harmonica also makes another appearance. It’s a stomping ballistic tune about the ecstasy and madness of love, and they definitely don’t disappoint.
“The Way It Used To Be” is a sparse, mid tempo tune. “What is left of love?” asks Neil, dejected and distant, in the simple melody of the verse, and the songs continues in this beautiful vein until it suddenly breaks into a few fierce, bitter lines and a writhing synth break. Absolutely stunning. The final song is “Legacy”, with a portentous drum roll leading into a syncopated beat and declarative vocal line about getting over break-ups, almost as if in answer to the previous song. It’s a calm, serene end to the album, apart from the few moments in which it morphs into a French marching band, for some reason.
As ever with the Pet Shop Boys, this is pop that engages the brain, heart and dancing feet in equal measures. But it doesn’t end there! Sensible pop fans will have procured the double CD “Yes, etc”. The second CD boasts another new track, “This Used To Be The Future”, which revisits the joy of Neil and Chris trading vocals in a laidback tune about how the present’s not all it was cracked up to be when it was the future. Then Phil Oakey gatecrashes the tune with an evil sci-fi synth and singing about suicide pacts. It’s brilliant, in other words. And if that weren’t enough, the bonus disc also features eminently listenable remixes of “More Than A Dream”, “Pandemonium”, “The Way It Used To Be”, “All Over The World”, “Vulnerable” and “Love Etc”. At only a few quid more than the single CD, it’s a bargain and a half.
To summarize: It may seem a bit premature to shout “album of the year!” in April, but it’s very hard to imagine a better pop album than “Yes” coming out this year. Highly recommended to all who love brilliant tunes, insightful lyrics, and thrilling beats. Etc.
Categories: Album for the day