Pet Shop Boys
1. West End Girls
2. Love Comes Quickly
3. Opportunities (let’s Make Lots Of Money)
5. It’s A Sin
6. What Have I Done To Deserve This?
8. Always On My Mind
10. Domino Dancing
11. Left To My Own Devices
12. It’s Alright
13. So Hard
14. Being Boring
15. Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You)
17. DJ Culture
18. Was It Worth It?
If you have even the slightest inkling that you might enjoy the Pet Shop Boys, you absolutely must - MUST - drop everything and rush out to your local CD store to pick up a copy of this incredible album right now. Discography is possibly the best singles collection that has ever existed. The first sixteen tracks comprise the Pet Shop Boys’ entire catalog of singles from 1985 to 1991, all of which charted in the Top 20; the remaining two were released in 1991, at the same time as this collection. In fact, twelve of these cuts reached the Top Ten and four achieved the Number One spot. A singles collection doesn’t get much better than this, boys and girls.
Discography is also a gem because it doubles as a superb best-of collection. Each song is undeniably PSB material, easily identified by Neil Tennant’s unusual, nearly deadpan vocal delivery and Chris Lowe’s hallmark sequencer programming, and (this is in no way intended to disparage the Boys’ album-only cuts, mind you) these tracks are inescapably the cream of their output. Likewise, as the disc plays, hearing the technological progression from relatively primitive sequencer-and-vox in the PSB’s early days to much more layered and complex songs is truly a fascinating journey through contemporary dance music.
Highly highly highly recommended.
Review by Jonathan Arnett
Review date: 08/2000
1. In The Night
2. A Man Could Get Arrested
3. That's My Impression
4. Was That What It Was?
6. Jack The Lad
7. You Know Where You Went Wrong
8. A New Life
9. I Want A Dog
10. Do I Have To?
11. I Get Excited (you Get Excited Too)
12. Don Juan
13. The Sound Of The Atom Splitting
14. One Of The Crowd
15. Your Funny Uncle
1. It Must Be Obvious
2. We All Feel Better In The Dark
3. Bet She's Not Your Girlfriend
4. Losing My Mind
5. Music For Boys
7. Hey, Headmaster
8. What Keeps Mankind Alive?
10. Too Many People
11. Violence (Hacienda Version)
13. If Love Were All
15. Some Speculation
For those unfortunate souls who are uninitiated to the world of the Pet Shop Boys, this is a b-sides compilation and therefore probably shouldn't be their first introduction to the Pet Shop Boys. If I'm talking to you, go buy Discography. Now. On the other side of the same coin, Alternative is a solid collection of songs and isn't the throwaway, contractual obligation-esque package you might expect of a b-side compendium, either. All phases of the band's career are covered evenly, several of the tracks could've been hit a-sides, and it includes a massive selection of great tracks previously available only on singles, bonus discs, or other rare formats, all of which make Alternative well worth the purchase price.
Each of the thirty songs is unmistakably Pet Shop Boys material, featuring the dry humor and unmistakable voice of Neil Tennant partnered with the trademark neo-disco sequencers of Chris Lowe. The tracks are ordered chronologically so the listener gets the treat of experiencing the Boys' musical growth over the first ten years of their career; the companion interview in the liner notes also sheds a great deal of light on the songs and the Boys themselves.
In the early stages, the Pet Shop Boys's bread and butter was simple, arpeggio electronic tracks such as their breakout hit "West End Girls" but, as the years passed, they began to produce their own music and began to create far more complex, multilayered songs, arguably reaching the apex of this style with their hit album Very. From this point, the Boys proceeded to bring forth less overtly grandiose, although no less thickly layered and compelling, singles like the excellent "Euroboy" and, at the time of writing, two more outstanding studio albums.
Tracks of special note include five alternate mixes of album cuts and a handful of lesser-known tracks. "In the night" and "Paninaro" first saw the light of day on the remix album Disco. "I want a dog" came from Introspective, the markedly different original version of "Violence" was the first track on their debut album Please, and "We all feel better in the dark" was the last track on Disco 2. Chris Lowe emerges from behind his stack of synthesizers to take on vocal duties (which just doesn't happen much at all) on the previously mentioned "Paninaro" and "We all feel better in the dark" as well as "One of the crowd," albeit on the last one through a heavily distorted voice filter. The two excellent cuts "Miserablism," which is a deadpan ode to feigning world-weariness in order to appear thoughtful and deep, and "Shameless," which is a musically over-the-top, self-indulgent paean to the quest for celebrity, were originally intended for release on Behaviour and Very, respectively, and perhaps even as singles in their own right, until they were bumped in favor of other songs. It is truly a credit to the Pet Shop Boys that they resurrected these two outstanding cuts and made them available in one package. Four of the last five tracks on the second disc, "Violence (Hacienda version)," "Decadence," "Euroboy," and "Some speculation," are also available elsewhere but you'd be better served by purchasing Alternative than picking up the special edition of the disappointing Disco 2 which contains these four superb cuts on a bonus disc.
Overall, Alternative is an excellent, excellent collection. Definitely pick it up if you're a Pet Shop Boys fan. And, gentle reader, if that description doesn't include you, make a doctor's appointment because something's seriously wrong.
Review by Jonathan Arnett
Review date: 05/2000
1. Domino Dancing (Alternative Version)
2. West End Girls (Dance Mix)
3. Opportunities (Original 7” Version)
4. Paninaro (7” Version)
5. That’s My Impression (7” Version)
6. We All Feel Better In The Dark (Extended Mix)
7. It Couldn’t Happen Here (LP Version)
8. It’s Alright (7” Version)
9. Left To My Own Devices (7” Version)
10. In The Night (Remix)
11. Two Divided By Zero (LP Version)
12. Love Comes Quickly (Dance Mix)
13. Being Boring (Extended Version)
Yet another collection of Pet Shop Boys alternate versions and rarities, Essential is not exactly essential. It’s not a waste of time - quite the opposite, in fact - but, since the definitive versions of all the various mixes are available elsewhere, it’s of interest only to fans of the Pet Shop Boys. This caveat aside, the songs on Essential represent interesting variations on a handful of good PSB tracks and provide some insight into the Boys’ creative process.
Changes in production, lyrics, and length are the primary differences between the well-known and alternate versions of the songs included. An interesting change of mood comes about from the spare production of “Domino Dancing.” Stripped of the Latin disco ebullience that characterizes the released version, the stark Essential version underscores the wistful lyrics and transforms one of the Boys’ happiest-sounding songs into a melancholic meditation on cheating boyfriends. Another dramatic change in tone is evident in the original 7” mix of “That’s My Impression.” Rather than coming off as cold and dispassionate, this version is far less polished and far more bitter than the dance version available on Alternative; it’s a change for the better.
A nearly unknown verse in the extended dance mix of “West End Girls” comes as a happy surprise. It’s not a particularly good verse, which is most likely why it was deleted, but it’s a treat for fans. Similarly, the original British 7” version of “Opportunites,” appearing for the first time since 1986, has a couplet at the end which the Boys omitted from the subsequent version that became an international smash hit. Once again, it’s probably for the best that those lines got the ax…but it’s a treat for fans.
Most of the 7” versions included on Essential are shorter than their album versions; however, three songs, “We All Feel Better In The Dark”, “Love Comes Quickly”, and “Being Boring”, receive a beneficial extendo-mix treatment in this compilation. All are quite lovely on their own merits and the expanded time slot allows for more, interesting variations on each song’s musical themes. The instrumental break at the end of “Being Boring” is particularly sweet, with a wailing, distorted guitar solo in the background as each component of Chris Lowe’s sequencers takes the fore in turn. Psychedelic, man.
The only questionable inclusions are the album tracks “It Couldn’t Happen Here” and “Two Divided By Zero”. Each one is certainly worthwhile …but they’re readily available on studio albums, so why bother?
Overall, the question of whether or not Essential is a good album is best determined by the listener’s level of interest in the PSB. It’s not a great choice for the uninitiated…but it’s a gem for a dedicated fan. Take your pick.
Review by Jonathan Arnett
Review date: 09/2000