100 Essential CDs – Number 45 – Pet Shop Boys – Very

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Very- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1993) 

UK Chart Position – 1

US Chart Position –45

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It felt like quite a long wait between 1990’s “Behaviour” and the release of this, the Pet Shop Boys fifth studio album.  In the meantime they had released a Singles Collection, “Discography” which had been a Top 3 album but there was still the feeling that they were getting a little disgruntled by things, including the sales of their last release which had a slightly different feel about it and which they considered to be up there with the best.

So this album when it arrived was perhaps more what you would expect, in fact, as suggested by the clever title it was “very” Pet Shop Boys and absence had made the heart grow fonder as it became their one and only UK number 1 album.  In the US it saw them back in the top 20 for the first time since their debut over seven years earlier and what is more, by giving the fans what they wanted the Boys came up with their fourth essential studio album in a row and their best album up to this point.

From here the boys start their retreat a little back from the limelight and let the music rather than images do the work for them.  The cover has no photos of the band but is wonderfully tactile, the chunk of orange plastic with raised bobbles on it, which seemed really quite daring at the time.  It’s sometimes referred to as “The Lego Cover” but not when the makers of that particular trademarked toy are around.  I’ve read somewhere that at the time they were thinking themselves too old to have the cover shots they might have wanted when they were younger so and came up with something that was a little surprising, a little tacky, a little arty but certainly “very” Pet Shop Boys. When the boys do appear in the artwork for this, they are somewhat disguised, for this is the era of PSB silly hats, half globes and pointy dunce caps which never really worked for them but probably entertained them at the time.

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The whole of Europe was won over once again.  Less subdued than its predecessor, the fans in 1993 wanted danceable tunes, sophisticated arrangements, tongue in cheek lyrics and probably some references to Neil’s coming out as gay which had also been confirmed in the gap between “Behaviour” and “Very”.  The album also topped the charts in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland and was a big seller in many other territories.  It was produced by the Pet Shop Boys with some help from old collaborator Stephen Hague.  All the songs were written by Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant, apart from one cover version which also has a Brothers In Rhythm mix to help it up the singles charts.

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It kicks off with “Can You Forgive Her?” which had led the way as a single prior to the album release and reached number 7 in the UK charts.  The title was apparently spawned from the Trollope novel of the same name.  It’s a tale of humiliation, of waking from dreams in a cold sweat recalling an incident in a relationship where the male addressed to is made a fool of by his partner.  This man needs to get out of this relationship quick as he is being emasculated by her taunts;

“She’s made you some kind of laughing stock because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock. 

She made fun of you and even in bed said she was gonna go and get herself a real man instead.”

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Is it forgiveness or revenge that is on the cards?  It’s a good start but I like even more the second track “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”.  Released as single number three, the first after the album’s release it reached number 13.  It’s a great stomping pop tune, joyful in its abandonment and contains the great lines;

I feel like taking all my clothes off dancing to The Rite of Spring and I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing.

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“Liberation” is a cool piece of mid-tempo with Love Unlimited rhythms and has a feel of the Style Council meets Barry White all imbued with a great Pet Shop Boysness.  It followed the previous track as a single and reached number 14 in the UK.  It builds beautifully and is a track I always love to hear, often forgetting how good it actually sounds.

The first of the tracks not to be released as a single is next and “A Different Point Of View” is a much more frantic affair from its brassy, electro intro.  The song is quite simple, this is a PSB track where the strength is in the production rather than the lyrics.  “Dreaming Of The Queen” sees the lyrics back into stronger focus and is a quirky tale of;

Dreaming of the Queen visiting for tea You and her and I and Lady Di  

It beautifully captures the surrealism of the dream, the unlikely protagonists, the sage words, the realisation of being naked in such esteemed company.  It’s a mid-tempo piece of fun, not the strongest on the album, but then this is a strong album.  The gears crank up again for “Yesterday When I Was Mad” which became the fifth and final single from the album and got to number 13 in the UK.  Neil “raps” the verse and sweeps it into a singalong chorus. It addresses the criticisms that seemed to hang around the group and is a glorious swipe at the music industry with strong lyrics such as ;

‘You have a certain quality which really is unique Expressionless, such irony, although your voice is weak It doesn’t really matter cause the music is so loud Of course it’s all on tape but no one will find out’

And;

Then we posed for pictures with the competition winners and argued about the hotel rooms and where to go for dinner and someone said: ‘It’s fabulous you’re still around today You’ve both made such a little go a very long way’

very7Top grade PSB track. The album moves nicely into the West End grandeur of “The Theatre” which features a choir.  I have no real idea what’s going on here but I like it and its very much in the mould of tracks such as “Suburbia” and “I’m Not Scared”.  It’s a tale of the haves and have nots, the juxtaposition of wealthy theatre-goers turning a blind eye to the homeless in the streets.  A more traditional house dance track follows with “One And One Make Five”.  It’s back to the lush, sophisticated midtempos for “To Speak Is A Sin”, a really attractive song which has the feel of the Minellis and the type of track they came up with when working with Liza.

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“Young Offender” has the feel of an arcade game in its lengthy intro, which smacks of dodgy amusement arcades playing Space Invaders.  Perhaps the track I’m the least excited about this album.  It is certainly a nod to Neil’s recently confirmed sexuality with its lyrics about an older man and the disaffected scally lad youth.

Will I get in your way or open your eyes? Who will give whom the bigger surprise?

“One In A Million” returns to the Europop feel in a song which really moves and builds well to a singalong chorus paving the way to the big hit from this album, another inspired cover version of the Village People’s number 15 hit from fourteen years earlier, “Go West”.

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I always thought the original was under-rated ,  a great example of call and response over a disco beat which the Village People could do so well.  On Neil and Chris’ version there’s seagulls squawking, an electronic voiced choir which manages to sound both Russian and like a Welsh male voice choir and the whole thing is resplendent in its over the top Pet Shop Boys feel.  Neil’s vocal is certainly impassive compared to the original and it actually gives the song a whole new level.  It’s camp, yes, but totally splendid and probably eclipses the original.  It certainly did sales-wise when as it reached number 2 in the UK charts, their highest chart position for five years.  It became a number 1 single in Finland, which certainly was a good market for the Boys at this time and also topped the charts in Ireland and Germany and saw Top 5 placings in countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden  and Switzerland.  The Pet Shop Boys were back.

I’ve always been a little annoyed by “hidden tracks” which were quite prevelant at this time and when we began burning our CDs onto MP3 players caused minutes of emptiness.  You have to wait a good few minutes for the one minute fifteen “I Believe In Ecstasy” an attractive enough soundscape of a track but I really wish they hadn’t bothered because “Go West” is in itself the perfect way to end “Very”.   They first performed the song live  at an AIDS benefit set up by film-maker and PSB collaborator Derek Jarman at The Hacienda in Manchester and was originally intended for a non-album release single which didn’t happen as the Brothers In Rhythm mix fitted perfectly into the concept for this CD.

This was a return to form commercially for the Pet Shop Boys and a great album which still sounds so today.

 

Behaviour  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.99and used from £3.47. It can be downloaded for £7.99. In the US it is currently $8.99 new and used from $1.98 and as a download for $9.49.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

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