We’ve now reached 2006, a time when I was paying no attention whatsoever to the Pet Shop Boys. Don’t blame on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, but blame it on the blogging.
Yup. This was the time I got myself a cheap USB turntable and began to very seriously resurrect my lifelong passion for guitar-based indie-pop, and immersing myself in a new hobby that has led to millions of words being typed out.
I had no idea that 2006 was the year that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe released a political album, one which reflected a falling out of love with the Labour government fronted by Tony Blair. Much of it was to do with the Iraq war, but other factors were at play. Here’s a few extracts from a contemporary review penned by the always excellent Alexis Petrides in The Guardian on 19 May 2006.
“Earlier this week, BBC2’s Dead Ringers compared Tony Blair to the bunker-bound Hitler. Another symbol of the PM’s decline in popularity may therefore seem otiose, but that is what the Pet Shop Boys’ ninth album turns out to be. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe spent election night 1997 not only attending the Royal Festival Hall bash, but also an aftershow party at a Park Lane hotel, where, Tennant remembered, champagne flowed and entertainment was provided by MPs “forming the government”. Until recently, Tennant could be relied upon to support the government – initially, he backed the Iraq war – but with Fundamental, things take a disagreeable turn.
“It touches on regime change, immigration, ID cards and the politics of fear. It features, the PM will doubtless be overjoyed to learn, another in what appears to be a series of Pet Shop Boys songs depicting him as a hapless lover in thrall to a hopeless partner.
“In fact, there is every chance Blair will miss the song. For one thing, he has rather more to worry about than the Pet Shop Boys implying he’s having it off with George Bush. In addition – surprisingly for a Pet Shop Boys single – I’m with Stupid seems to have mislaid its chorus amid the electronic pyrotechnics provided by Trevor Horn, still best known as Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s producer. It’s one of two moments when Fundamental misfires. The other is Numb, the work of songwriter Diane Warren. You can see the conceptual, camp appeal of the perennially poker-faced Pet Shop Boys working with the queen of the blockbusting power ballad, but the result sounds strangely wan.
“Indefinite Leave to Remain is an aching love song conducted in the official language of the asylum seeker. Twentieth Century concerns Iraq, yet it’s really about second thoughts. “I bought a ticket to the revolution and cheered when the statues fell,” concedes Tennant. “Everyone came to destroy what was rotten but they killed off what was good as well.” On Integral, the poker face slips slightly: as he protests against ID cards, you catch the faintest tremor of rage in Neil Tennant’s voice. He sounds angry, a bracing new sensation almost 25 years into the Pet Shop Boys’ career.
“The reunion with Horn – their first since 1988’s glorious Left to My Own Devices – proves similarly inspired. Opener Psychological sounds subdued: quite an achievement, given that it features an orchestra, a harp and “a sample from the recording of the Song of the Most Holy Theotokos for Tatiana Melentieva from the album Svete Tikhiy (O Gladsome Light)“. Its understatement fits the song’s theme of nameless dread, but you have to wait until The Sodom and Gomorrah Show before Horn pulls out what you might call the Full Frankie: timpani, thwacking hi-NRG bass, cascading synth lines, jagged guitar chords and, as was once mandatory on his productions, a booming voiceover that breaks into puny-earthlings-I’ll-destroy-them-all cackling. Employ Paul Morley to write some dada-influenced cobblers for the sleeve and the image would be complete. But it’s a perfect fit, the apocalyptic hedonism of Two Tribes or Welcome to the Pleasuredome updated for a different, but equally paranoid era.
“Elsewhere, its gaze shifts away from current events. Minimal sounds pleasingly like Kraftwerk mounting a defence of the Turner prize. Casanova in Hell concerns a man who mysteriously can’t get it up in the presence of a lady (“it’s queer,” Tennant winks, “that here he can’t cast his spell”) but rewrites his life-story to cast him as a perpetually tumescent lothario: “His erection,” the song divertingly claims, “will live in history.” Cue gag about Neil Tennant getting his mouth around an erection, but instead, a more elevated thought comes to mind. Not for the first time during Fundamental, you listen wondering who else in pop music would do something like this. And not for the first time, the answer comes back: nobody.”
Three singles were released from the album, all of which are mentioned in the above review. Strangely enough, two of the singles were the occasions when Petrides felt the album misfired.
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – I’m With Stupid
It’s an unusual sounding number that musically comes a bit close to a quiet-loud-quiet type of number (albeit the quite moments can be counted in micro-seconds) and contrary to what was suggested in the review, there is a chorus, albeit it’s very basic. It was released on 8th May 2006, and in keeping with how all PSB singles had been performing in recent years, it went in high at #8 before falling away with three or four weeks.
It was issued on CD, DVD and, perhaps to reflect that the genre was making something of a comeback, on 7″ vinyl in the shape of a picture disc.
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – The Resurrectionist
It’s really unfair to say that this rather excellent upbeat, club effort is PSB by numbers, but it is the sort of things they had been able, over the decades, to do in their sleep. Another of the numerous quality b-sides that I hope this series has been able to highlight.
7″ picture disc
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Girls Don’t Cry
It’s really unfair to say that this rather excellent mid-tempo pop effort is PSB by numbers, but it is the sort of things they had been able, over the decades, to do in their sleep. Another of the numerous quality b-sides that I hope this series has been able to highlight.
The new album appeared in the shops just two weeks after the lead-off single (and two quality b-sides!). It followed the same pattern as the single in that it entered high at #5 but was outside the Top 75 just over a month later. It was a long-way removed from the multi-million sales of previous decades, but there’s a sense that neither of the duo really cared, as it was all about the art nowadays.
The second single to be lifted from the album was released on 24 July 2006
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Minimal
This is the one that Alex Petrides thought sounded pleasingly like Kraftwerk mounting a defence of the Turner prize. I’m not qualified enough to say if that’s accurate or not, but it is a rollocking and fun song. This one peaked in its first week at #19.
It was issued on CD, DVD, CD maxi single and 7″ clear vinyl. Given its uptempo nature, there can be no surprise that a number of the b-sides/extra tracks were remixes, but there was still space for two previously unreleased numbers.
CD single/7″ clear vinyl
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – In Private
It’s a pop song. It’s a duet. Elton John is on co-vocal. It’s a re-recording of a song written originally for Dusty Springfield, and had been a Top 20 hit back in 1989. Lots of folk will love this song, and I can see why as it has all the hallmarks and attributes of a pop classic, and in particular the hook. But it’s not one of my favourites.
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Blue On Blue
I’ve no idea why this was thrown away as an extra track on a format which only the diehard fans would seek out*. It’s not ground-breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s another upbeat and danceable b-side that’s well worth a few minutes of your time.
*In February 2012, the compilation album Format would be released, consisiting of 38 tracks that had featured as b-side/remixes on various singles between 1996 and 2009. Blue On Blue was among them.
There was one other bit of otherwise unavailable music on the DVD single:-
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – No Time For Tears (7″ mix)
It wasn’t a completely new number. It dated from 2004 when PSB had composed music accompany a new outdoor screening of the 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin in Trafalgar Square, London, an event which attracted 25,000 people., The following year, the soundtrack album was recorded in Germany, along with additional screeings over four successive nights in September 2005 in Frankfurt, Bonn, Berlin and Hamburg.
The 7″ mix is about a minute shorter than the version on the soundtrack.
The third and final single lisfted directly from Fundamental was released on 15 October 2006.
mp3 : Pet Shop Boys – Numb (single edit)
Alex Petrides, in his April 2006 review, had described this as a misfire. I’m not sure if it was originally intended as a single but millions of TV viewers had, in July 2006, heard the song as it was used by the BBC to accompany the montage footage they had pulled together when the England football team had been knocked out of the 2006 World Cup, once again via a penalty shoot-out, this time at the hands of Portugal. Neil and Chris chose to base the new edit on the way the BBC had used it in the broadcast.
This one only reached #23 and this became just the second single since the very early days to miss out on the Top 20.
It was issued on CD, CD maxi single and 7″ vinyl.
Two new songs appeared on the CD maxi single, with one of them also being included as the b-side to the 7″.
mp3 : Pet Shop Boys – Party Song
As the cliche goes, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s worth recalling that a lot of angst and anger had gone into the making of Fundamental…..this might well have been their way of letting off a bit of steam. It’s great fun.
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Bright Young Things
This is one that actually dates from 2003 in that it had been written and recorded for use in a film of the same name, but was turned down by the producers. It does have that feel of the sort of number that would play over the closing credits.
One further track that originally appeared on Fundamental would be issued in single form.
8th October 2007 saw the release of the album Disco 4. It contained 8 songs, six of which were PSB remixes of tracks written and originally released by The Killers, David Bowie, Yoko Onon, Madonna, Atomiser, and Rammstein. Two PSB originals were given the treatment, one of which was also made available as a download-only single as part of the promotional activites.
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Integral (Perfect Immaculate Mix)
The next actual physical single would be released in March 2009. It’ll be included in the next part of the series.