* Prices may differ from that shown
The pet shop boys and the smiths both have something in common. Although vastly different, they sort of convey the same english intelligence which makes them respectively, well-respected entities of pop and indie. But as marr progressed to join the cribs and Morrisey continued to progress into a racist, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe proved to get worse and worse with every album they produced.
It seems that their downhill slump has ceased to continue with the release of this album.
In getting themselves 'up to date', believe it or not the Pet Shop Boys actually wrote a single for Girls Aloud, and it seems there is some correlation between that and the album.
For me this is not what I'm really into but the songs on here are
definitely not as cringe-worthy as some of the ones in their previous albums. Moreover they seem to have immersed themselves in pop culture to create an album which is not classic pet shop boys sound but a lot more modernised and up to date. It's almost unfair for me to review this album really as I'm not a pet shop boys fan, I just happen to know about it because someone else in my family likes them...honest!
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 by sneaking in 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, intelligent lyrics, and dazzling beats. Etc.
I first heard "Yes" at a preview event hosted by Parlophone Records and Popjustice at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on 6th March 2009. An audience of about a hundred devoted "Petheads" had gathered to hear the new album played and the Pet Shop Boys interviewed.
None of us knew quite what to expect. How would the famed production values of Brian Higgins and the Xenomania team interact with the Boys' deadpan style? The Boys have always exhibited a very English kind of urbane (and urban) dry and self-deprecating wit. How would the alchemy of a Kent rectory studio transmute this style into the high octane formula best known for propelling Cheryl Cole to chart stardom?
Well the audience reaction was positive - even before Neil and Chris appeared on stage to answer questions in their trademark double act worthy of Gilbert and George. Neil, as ever, was the flamboyant, effervescent orator and Chris, hidden behind his shades and baseball cap, interjected the occasional bitter slice of dry, pithy Lancastrian wit.
So has this Xenomania collaboration worked? It's still an odd musical marriage. None of these tracks has the explosive hi-energy power of a Trevor Horn synth-romp, so I should start my review by stating that this album does not, and cannot, equal the superlative grand folie that is "Fundamental." That's a pity. On "Yes", the finest tracks in my view come straight from an older copybook of classic PSB themes. On balance, the collaboration can be described as a partial success.
Here's the run-down.
1. Love etc.
A hooky, spacey and innovative contribution that betrays the Xenomania effect in its football-terrace chorus and repetitively hypnotic musical structure. The effect is magnified in the video with its symmetrical and surreal computer graphics. Mind you, the video could have been "Go West" circa 1993... the PSBs have done all this before. I enjoyed the parodic sideswipes at L.A. consumer culture - the kind of sideswipe at materialism we have come to know and love ever since "Opportunities". The song's a hit and grower, but to me, not a classic.
2. All over the world
"This is a song for boys and girls", and it's a good one too. The chorus is addictive, structured and repetitive, with echoes (to me) of "Domino Dancing". Intelligent lyrics, explosions of sound and more hooks than a meat factory add up to a fine PSB track.
3. Beautiful people
Very much the counterpoint to track one, this song is a thoughtful, lyrically subtle and strangely restful song. The song exhorts "I want to live like beautiful people" but the yearning is mixed with hints of doubt and regret, lending the song more depth than its lyrics suggest.
4. Did you see me coming?
An accomplished and mature track with a catchy chorus, with typically emotionally reflective and self-aware content - "You don't have to be in Who's Who to know what's what?" Although in my view, the song is just a tad too pedestrian to rise to greatness.
I suppose artists have to write about what they know, but the lament "Try being me when you walk down the street" is hardly going to ring any emotional bells with those millions of us who no-one knows from Adam (or Eve). Still this is an attractive mid-tempo introspective song, with a note of defiance "I am no-one's stepping stone" and a hooky chorus. I'm sure I heard a mandolin, but that could just be my imagination.
6. More than a dream
At last the album is picking up steam! "More than a dream" is a compelling, catchy and riff-ridden track which has a more substantial feel right from the opening chords: "Coming soon... something good". The overt optimism - "I believe that we can change; we can make it more than a dream!" is deployed with an elusive, magical frisson rather than a full-on happy rant. This is a cautiously hopeful, slightly mystical song, and it strikes all the right emotional chords. The counter-harmony on the bridge - "Driving through the night" is top-notch. Great work, N&C.
7. Building a Wall
The thematic successor to the privacy, police-state concerns of Fundamental, this track boasts an engaging and catchy chorus. The "wall" operates at so many emotional, lyrical and political levels, referencing a lost world of Cold War spies and Hadrian's wall. They appeal to their childhood playing in the bomb-sites in the vanished England of Betjeman. I'm not exaggerating - Neil directly quotes him with "Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea" before Chris deflates those pretensions with a withering "Who do you think you are? Captain Britain?" It's wonderful to see how the Boys have matured into middle-aged, small-c conservative English pastoralists :-)
8. King of Rome
A thoughtful, subdued and introspective track - a bit like "Before" but without the energy.
I'm not the first to see a mental image of the TARDIS cavorting through time and space on hearing these opening bars, because the opening chords (a cynic might argue) bear a passing resemblance to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1963. This is a truly excellent track - really the only full-on PSB party anthem on the album. You don't have to be a hi-NRG music fan to appreciate the power and melody of this track.
10. The way it used to be
This is song is so good it is on a complete different plane of reality to the rest of the album. The ice-cold, withering opening is a heart-stopping emotional connection to the finest hour of "Behaviour" (1991) The song is a classic PSB theme, being a sad, mournful reflection on the transience of love. The bridge is hauntingly beautiful: "I survive with only memories, if I could change the way I feel. But I want more than only memories; the human touch to make them real". This is one of the Boys' finest songs, period - and proof that 25 years on, they have still got the raw talent that first drove their success.
It's interesting to see that the Carphone Warehouse has achieved immortality in the PSB lyrics amid high-speed trains and other arcane historical references. I found the song a little jarring, unbalanced and confusing, myself, but on reflection I think that's the whole point. Top marks too for including "The Pilgrimage of Grace" into the lyrics - Neil is after all a History graduate. Poetic in its own strange way.
"You don't have to be beautiful - but it's nice". The multicoloured rainbow tick is an intelligent and professional musical motif, which underscores the positivity of the title and helps lend an upbeat feel to the album. After all, this is probably their most optimistic work since Bilingual if not Very). The colour blocks hark back to the multicoloured stripes of "Introspective", which itself presumably references various gay rights and peace flags (or maybe just the TV test card). Popjustice tried to recreate the Very swish out of Starburst fruits, which worked rather well. It's definitely a design improvement on the grim shadow and darkness of "Fundamental".
I would encourage all fans not to purchase the single CD product portrayed here, but instead track down the black Special edition which features an exclusive track ("This used to be the future"), six club mixes and also a commentary and short film.
Yes is a charming album with some outstanding moments. Xenomania have made it smooth, light and poppy - all of which are fine things. But it lacks the dark grandeur or epic pretensions of the Boys' best work, and in my view is the poorer for it. True, "you don't need a super car to get far" - but sometimes I miss the sheer power and acceleration of an "Integral" or an "S&G Show".
There is one towering obelisk of a track - "The way it used to be" and one barn-stomer, being "Pandemonium". The rest is accomplished, but unmemorable. "Yes" is a high quality album, and essential for any PSB loyalist - but in the final analysis it falls short of being a classic.
(c) Eastern Star 2009
To say 'they're back' would be to suggest that they were ever anywhere else. Never lacking in originality, never lacking a new song or a slightly twisted and tortured lyric, I don't think the boys ever went away (or at least not far). Their 10th studio album, 'Yes', is another on-target release.
Duo Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe won an award for their 'Outstanding Contribution to Music' at the 2009 Brit Awards - so is this new album them resting on their laurels or does it have anything new to say? They've aged quite well, Tennant still has the slightly amused, knowing expression and Lowe seems to be desiccating rather than actually aging, but what of the music?
Co-produced by the Boys and Xenomania (of Girl's Aloud fame) this album kicks off with the first singe release from it (and I think one of the strongest songs on it), Love etc. A great dance tune with overtones of their massive hit 'Go West', I predict you will see - or rather hear - this song on a sequence about the 50210-types within 12 months - come back and tell me if I'm wrong
"(Don't have to be)/A big bucks Hollywood star/(Don't have to drive)/A super car to go far/(Don't have to live)/A life of power and wealth/(Don't have to be)/Beautiful but it helps"
Great opening number and 'anthemic'.
It's been reported that Chris Tennant said he left his 'ego at the door' to work with Xenomania, but in acknowledging that they had helped Girl's Aloud to more than a dozen big hits in recent years, maybe this was the Boys way or saying they are still hungry for chart success and not just artistic recognition from a dwindling (and aging) fan base. If that is hte case, I think it worked - this album is fresh and original, if not of always excellent quality throughout, and I think is actually better than their more recent efforts.
All Over The World follows. Look, if I said to you 'imagine a French-African vocal chorus over a main theme by Tchaikovsky followed by a mid-Asian disco beat, you'd think I'd lost the plot. Maybe that's why it called 'All Over The World' - and then it's the Boys and it all makes a lot more, lavish, sense. The lushness of the instrumental elements and its multi-tracked depth contrasts sharply with the thin, almost reedy vocal line from Tennant, but it works somehow. In the middle of the song, the lyric is suddenly thrust forward into prominence and you realise that it's 'all about lurve' - of course.
"It's sincere and its objective/Superficial and true.../Easy and predictable/Exciting and new,/To say I want you/This is a song,/About boys and girls,/You hear it/Playing all over the world..."
I mean, come on: We've had 'Roll Over, Beethoven' - we've had 'Rock Me, Amadeus' - who says we are not now due for some sweet Nutcracker with the disco pips?
Track three is Beautiful People, something of an obsession I think for this pop duo.
"Now I can see myself/Without a care in the world/
It's a sun shining, money-spending/Green and healthy new world
Is it only a fantasy/Or could it be reality?
I wanna/Live like beautiful people/
Give like beautiful people/with like beautiful people around"
This wistful, orchestrated song sounds as though it could be an album track from a Dusty Springfield album of the mid-60s - not that it's old fashioned, but it is period.
A nice track, that slightly haunting and yearning feel that a lot of the Pet Shop Boys signature material has.
After the elegant violin ending to Beautiful People, Did You See Me Coming? bounces in and it could be Kylie - heck, it could be any Stock Aitkin Waterman stable mate from the 80's. It pure pop - in fact, it's almost perfect pop. At 3 minutes and 41 seconds long, it is actually 20 seconds or so over the perfect vinyl 7" length (as if anyone still cared) but it has all the other component parts: An intro section, short verses with easy-to-remember lyrics, a bouncy track with a simple verse/chorus structure, a little key change loop about 2 minutes in, a short instrumental section (the dance sequence) and a fade out. And do you know what? It's not bad and it's got a killer hook. I am slightly sorry to say I will be humming it all day.
"You don't have to be in Who's Who/To know what's what
You don't have to be a high flier/To catch your flight
The night we met/Was cold and wet/I needed a drink or two
I saw you standing there/And I knew/I'd love to be loved by you"
'Hmm hmm hmm did you see me comin' oooh-oooh...(damn I've got to stop that looping in my head...)'
Vulnerable, track 5 is still pop but for me this is more Pet Shop Boys. Danceable, but the minor keys and the slightly wistful, yearning, maybe even defensive feel is carried though with the title and the lyric:
"At night/I am lying awake/Through the hours trying/To calculate
Am I good enough?/Could I contrive?/To keep this sham around
Will I survive?
I know you must sometimes/Think I don't care
Or even appreciate/What we share
Though I'm no one's/Stepping stone/The truth is I love you
And I'd go crazy/Alone"
It's sweet and sad and a little scared. It's very PSB and I think it's rather good. This could play out as weak or even a little pathetic, but I don't think it does and for me it does capture the title/subject 'Vulnerable' spot on.
Another pop standard in More Than A Dream but no longer Kylie - this was surely penned for a Girl Band, maybe even aimed at Girls Aloud themselves (the Xenomania tie-up again). Tennant's slightly thin voice is multi-tracked to give it the ensemble effect, but this is not Boyzone or That That territory - not even nearly.
For me at 4 seconds short of 5 minutes this is slightly too long, too, but it is a good song: It just ends up sounding like a slightly odd-choice cover version here.
Tongue very firmly in cheek, maybe David Cameron will adopt this as his theme tune in reply to the New Labour use of D:Ream 'Thing's (Can Only Get Better)'? Cameron could show he was open to both his feminine side and also nod to the LBG community? The lyric is candyfloss:
"I believe we can change/We can make it more than a dream
And I believe we can change/It's not as strange as it might seem
In the air I can feel/Something magical becoming real
From the other side looking in/Come on, throw the dice
And tonight we'll win"
I'm puzzled by Building A Wall, the seventh track on this 11 track album. I wondered at first if it was some reference to the obvious walls (Berlin? Israel/Palestinian Territory? Great (w) of China? Pink Floyd?) but actually the reference seems closer to that from the film 'Pricilla, Queen of the Desert' where one of the drag-queen characters refer to the wall of Sydney suburbia with the observation "I'm never sure if it's there to keep to keep them out or us in".
This is, I conclude, one of those walls, but it's a strange track. I guess it will play well on stage and with the usual PSB dramatic staging it will come over well, but it seems a little like it's lost its way here. There are authoritarian overtones and 'Big Brother' type sentiments here, like it's a latter day attempt by the PSB's to usurp the Eurhythmics and make a late play to the title track for the film version of 1984.
I'm building a wall/A fine wall/Not so much to keep you out
More to keep me in
I'm losing my head/Well, why not?/More work for the undertaker
Means there's less for me
For me, this is a bit flabby.
Another wistful minor-key track but King of Rome is more trance/chill-out, slower but not melancholy - a Sunday-morning-ish cut. It's quite lush and musically deep-dish with spun-sugar sweet synthesisers. It's very PSB and could be taken straight from 'Being Boring' or 'Behaviour'.
It would be wrong to take this all too seriously; this is after all a pop album. This track is, in its own way, both poetic and a little lyrical and it's not bad, but I don't think Gershwin has a lot to fear.
"The desert moon, a new lagoon/We glide upon the surface
Night falls fast, no shadows cast/Arriving without purpose
Oh, baby call me/Oh, baby call me today
And if I were the King of Rome/I couldn't be more lonely
With so much scope to dream and hope/Someday you'll deign to phone me"
Having said that, Tennant is one of only a handful of lyricists writing today who would even try to use 'deign' in a lyric, so hat's off for treating us like grown-ups with a vocabulary greater than Oasis.
Its pure Stock Aitkin and Waterman territory again when you get to track nine Pandemonium. This skippy little track seems likely to be an instant favourite with 8 year old girls and drunken uncles at weddings the nation over. No, you're right - I didn't like it. Actually, I couldn't get the lyric either and have had to look it up (I used www.sing365.com/music/lyric).
If I had been able to understand it I would have got:
"To tell you the truth, I thought I was shockproof/
Until I saw what you get up to/
When you think about it, it's quite an achievement/
That after all I still love you/
Oh no, look what you've gone and done/You're creating pandemonium
That song you sing means everything/To me, I'm living in ecstasy
My world's gone mad, what did you do?/Telling perfect strangers that I love you/The stars and the sun dance to your drum
And now it's pandemonium!"
And this all to a bouncy, rounded little tune. It's odd, I think and to make it stranger I have read one report on the web which says that this is the story of Pete Docherty and Kate Moss as told from her side: Is that true? Well, it sort of fits the lyric so it might be. I think Xenomainia's fingerprints are all over this one. For me, this is probably the weakest cut on the album, but I do realise that that is very subjective.
Pure dance track and very much the electronic signature of their earlier work The Way It Used To Be could really be no-one but the Pet Shop Boys. This is a line straight back to 1993 and the album 'Very' and it is of a consistent quality.
This has got the same sumptuous gateau-layered richness as King of Rome and it's this quality of music in depth that makes it stand out.
"I can remember days of sun/We knew our lives had just begun
We could do anything, we're fearless when we're young/
Under the moon, address unknown/I can remember nights in Rome/
I thought that love would last, a promise set in stone/
I'd survive with only memories/If I could change the way I feel
But I want more than only memories/A human touch to make them real"
Maybe this is the older person looking back at their younger self, but it's vibrant and longing and heartfelt.
Which leaves track 11 Legacy (how apt).
There is a funny sequence (depending on your sense of humour) in an old film called 'Top Secret' where they are discussing passing time. "Things change" says one "People change. Hairstyles change...bank rates fluctuate". Cheesy dialogue neatly speared.
So why on earth did masters of the well-turned lyric come up with this as an opening couplet?
"Time will pass, governments fall/Glaciers melt, hurricanes bawl
High-speed trains take us away/North or south and back the same day"
It's tosh. It's about as lyrical as a high speed train advert. The tune is not bad and the orchestration is quite interesting (the tympani drum opening is more Lloyd Webber than synth dance pop), it is too long at 6 minutes odd but it is the crass, not to say clumsy lyric that lets this song down.
"It's dark, but you'll get over it/On your mark, you'll get over it/
That Carphone Warehouse boy has been on the phone/
He wants to upgrade the mobile you own/Have you realised your computer's a spy?/Give him a ring, he'll explain why
The bourgeoisie will get over it/Look at me, I'm so over it/
And you, you'll get over it!/You do, you get over it in time"
I am sure you can see what I am getting at.
Again, all of that being said, I do not think that a couple of duds should detract from what I think is overall a highly credible and enjoyable album full of new music and invention. Some artists, after getting the 'lifetime award' type accolade, limit themselves to a greatest hits album but the PSB's have actually come out with probably their best release for 10 years.
Legacy notwithstanding, the lyrics are clever and honest and intelligent and yet still linked to these sparkling pop tunes. It's a great combination.
Try it, you might like it.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Love etc.
2 All over the world
3 Beautiful people
4 Did you see me coming?
6 More than a dream
7 Building a wall
8 King of Rome
10 The way it used to be