dimanche 19 février 2012

The Pet Shop Boys release a new compilation of their Bside tracks...

The Pet Shop Boys have always intended their every single release to be worth it for their fans and they have always put valuable bonus tracks on the different formats of their singles, either unavailable new songs or remixes. These B-side songs have always been the main reason for me to buy their every new single althought I already had it on the mother album CD. They first put these less known songs in light in 1995 with the 2CD compilation Alternative, which covered the 1985 to 1995 era, and now is the time for the second B-side compilation of theirs, called Format, covering the following years (1996 to 2009) of B-side songs. Displayed in a limited edition box with 2 cardboard CD outlets and full booklet with their comments on each song via an interview with Jon Savage, it is a must-have for every PSB fan like me, but maybe not a release that will be massively bought...

Here is the 2CD tracklisting :
1. The Truck Driver and His Mate (3:34) from the Before CD1
The opener of the Format first CD is a guitar-led disco-meets-Oasis gay anthem that belongs to the Pet Shop Boys' latin/disco era from the album Bilingual. It has haunting powerful vocals from Sylvia Mason-James and a killer beat : perfect introduction of what's to come...
2. Hit and Miss (4:07) from the Before CD1
The following track is another guitar-led (though acoustic this time) song, all charming and lightful, where the inspiration comes more from the Beatles this time. The Waiting chorus lines, all with angelic backing vocals, sounds wonderful and marvellous and I've always liked this melancholic but breezy pop song even though it has nearly no dance elements in it at all !
3. In the Night '95 (4:16) from the Before CD1
The 1995 remix of the original B-side of their 1985 single Opportunities took the fantastic Phil Harding co-produced track into a technoïd instrumental frenzy.

4. Betrayed (5:19) from the Se a vida é (That's the Way Life Is) CDsingle
Betrayed was their attempt to write a jungle track and despite the d'n'b loops & beats, it is a superb song, with nice harmonies & delicate vocals.
5. How I Learned to Hate Rock 'n' Roll (4:38) from the Se a vida é CDsingle
I have always thought this one sounded like underground techno, inspired by things like Chemical Brothers, but always with the Pet Shop Boys pop appeal. The rhythm is reminiscent of their previous Brothers In Rhythm collaborations even though they produced it alone (like nearly all the B-sides compiled here) with Bob Kraushaar on the mix and Pete Gleadall on programming.
6. Discoteca (new version) (3:43) from the Single-Bilingual CD 1
This new version mixed by Pete Schwier from their Bilingual album was released as a double-A single along Single-Bilingual so I find it strange that it appears only as a B-side on this compilation, but as it was not included on their singles compilation, maybe it makes sense...
7. The Calm Before the Storm (2:46) from the Single-Bilingual CD 1
This beautiful ballad always reminds me of Your funny uncle, and is one of the boys' piano-led acoustic peaceful moments.
8. Confidential (demo for Tina Turner) (4:47) from the Single-Bilingual CD 2
I really liked the song when I heard it on Tina's Wildest dreams album but was all the more happy to hear it in its original form with Neil on vocals ; kind of Nothing has been proved, part II for me...
9. The Boy Who Couldn't Keep His Clothes On (6:05) from the A Red Letter Day CD 1
One of the few bonus tracks they put on their singles releases that was not only produced by them, this Danny Tenaglia co-produced latin/house fiesta has always been a favourite of mine, even though I have always felt it was a little bit too long ; I wish an edit version could have been used instead, like it could have been released as a single in its own right too !
10. Delusions of Grandeur (5:04) from the A Red Letter Day CD 1
That songs all starts orchestral and calm but when suddenly it evolves into a galoping disco stomper that was perfect as a B-side to A red letter day in its Motiv8 single remix form ! It brings back the PSB trademarks of the Very era for me...
11. The View from Your Balcony (3:45) from the Somewhere CD 1
Backing their cover version of the West Side Story song, this one fitted perfectly with its theatral atmosphere and calm mood.
12. Disco Potential (4:07) from the Somewhere CD 2
On the opposite, Disco potential was another Chemical Brothers inspired half instrumental techno/rock pastiche that must come from the Chris side of the duo than from the Neil one... They said on the booklet notes there was a U2 inspiration too and it's true I hear some Zooropa atmosphere here.
13. Silver Age (3:33) from the I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More CD 1
Warm after cold, slow after fast, the tracklisting alternates the rhythm and Silver age is another moody calm electronical ballad with acoustic guitar, one I have never really paid hommage to, as its A-side was so much greater to my tastes !
14. Screaming (4:56) from the I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More CD 1
Although from the same single, Screaming had more appeal to me, surely because of its killer beat and perfect disco rhythm. It first appeared on the soundtrack album of Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho in 1998.
And that makes me realise there's a B-side missing here, from the I don't know what... CD 2, the cover version of Serge Gainsbourg's Je t'aime moi non plus that featured Sam Taylor-Wood on vocals with Neil Tennant... How come this amazing B-side coudl have been left off ??
15. The Ghost of Myself (4:03) from the New York City Boy CD 1
Once again, the A-side track of this single was so good it eclipsed its B-sides but this one is rather good, midtempo with a good rythm and nice lightful chorus.
16. Casting a Shadow (4:37) from the New York City Boy CD 2
The other B-sdie of their Village People inspired NYC Boy is an electronical instrumental that was commissioned for an eclipse brodcast for Radio 1 ; nice but not my cup of tea, not because of its rhythm, good, but because of the lack of lyrics/vocals...
17. Lies (4:39) from the You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk CDsingle
Lies is another electronical piece of art, inspired by Eurodance and featuring nice female vocals as chorus, and Chris Lowe on verses' vocal duties. This is one of the very few songs in which he sings or speaks but he vocoderized his voice a little to mask it naturally, shy boy he is ! I really liked this one and still do...
But once again, the other B-side of the Drunk single is missing. The fact that Sail away is another cover version (of Noel Coward this time) makes me think the duo wanted to compile more of their songs rather than just their B-sides... It is a shame though as the purpose is somewhat faulty now ! It originally featured on Noel Coward's 1998 tribute album Twentieth century blues though.
18. Sexy Northener (3:42) from the Home and Dry CD 1
Last track from CD 1 of Format is another rock inspired, although still 100% electro dance, song, melting David Bowie influences with the usual PSB style, and kinda hooligans football mood.

1. Always (5:03) from the Home and Dry CD 1
On this one, Neil's voice sounds high-pitched optimistic either melancholic and it is a nice calm synthépop midtempo, not bad, nor impressive...
2. Nightlife (3:53) from the Home and Dry DVD single
Nightlife, on the contrary, was a wonderful bonus material Neil sings in Bee Gees falsetto style. Produced with David Morales despite its basical beat, it was written for their 1999 album of the same name but wasn't included, nor on the Closer to heaven musical that followed the next year. Maybe it was too disco... so it was nice to finally see it appearing on their 2002 DVD single.
3. Searching for the Face of Jesus (3:27) from the I Get Along CD single
Matching the pop/rock guitar-led mood of their 2002 album Release, this Elvis inspired song doesn't really do anything to me... Maybe remixed into a latin/house number I woudl rediscover it but in this form, I don't like it...
4. Between Two Islands (5:06) from the I Get Along CD single
The other bonus track of that single had more rhythm and a cuban flavour to it, all with Johnny Marr guitar, that remembered me of their Bilingual era and I liked it more, even though it wasn't still the PSB I adore !
5. Friendly Fire (3:23) from I Get Along DVD
At first, their Nightlife album was to be the Pet Shop Boys singing songs from their forthcoming musical, then they did a whole new album instead, even though some songs were displayed on both projects (In denial, Closer to heaven...) and Neil's version of Friendly fire ended up on this DVD format. All orchestral and symphonic with grandiloquence, this one was co-produced with Craig Armstrong and is a beautiful and peaceful but also sad masterpiece !
Another Closer to heaven demo is missing from their B-side collection here as Neil's take on lead single Positive role model was featured as B-side to their german-only third single off Release, London but as their featured it on their album Disco 3, I guess it doesn't count...
6. We're the Pet Shop Boys (4:55) from the Miracles 2-track CD
So here is the only cover version that was featured as a B-side that gets the honour to be included on their B-side compilation... Truth is this My Robot Friend tribute song is a masterpiece and it was only fair the real PSB duet recorded it and made it their own. They produced it with Chris Zippel and couldn't be left off !
7. Transparent (3:51) from the Miracles maxi-CD
Transparent was the other bonus song to be release along the first single off their 2003 greatest hits package PopArt and it is an electronic demo where eil voices are vocoderized to the max as if it was Chris on lead I first thought... It was recorded during the Release sessions but with Kraftwerk in mind... Listening to it again, it makes sense !
8. I Didn't Get Where I Am Today (3:37) from the Flamboyant 2-track CD
Recorded in the same sessions, but with Johnny Marr on guitar, this pure 60's revival rock'n'roll song should have been included on the album as it is really good and sing-long-esque uptempo. Although not being what I like from my PSB, I like it ! It is strange too that it didn't get released on previous singles, as if they kept it for inclusion on the next album...
9. The Resurrectionist (3:10) from the I'm with Stupid CD single
Perfectly shaped with upbeat rhythm and good melody, this one definitely could have been more than just a B-side. It had its place on the Fundamental album or Fundamentalism limited 2CD edition...
10. Girls Don't Cry (2:34) from the I'm with Stupid 7'' & DVD single
Inspired by the film Boys don't cry, this song is all melancholic and atmospherical, rather good in their usual bittersweet way...
11. In Private (7'' mix with Elton John) (4:11) from the Minimal CD single
Originally a hit in 1989 penned for Dusty SPringfield, this PSB song was re-done (and co-produced with Stuart Crichton) into a duet with Sir Elton John for a possible inclusion on their PopArt compilation. It wasn't but was a great bonus for this #19 UK single.
12. Blue on Blue (3:12) from the Minimal DVD single
Other bonuses ended up on the DVD format and this Giorgio Moroder-ish electro/disco one is another nice must-have from the duo.
13. No Time for Tears (7'' mix) (3:35) from the Minimal DVD single
Originally from their Battleship Potemkin soundtrack album, this one was remixed and shortened to keep it a calm atmospherical pop song, nice enough, but nothing special...
14. Bright Young Things (4:55) from the Numb CD single
Originally written for inclusion on Stephen Fry's film of the same name's soundtrack, it didn't make it but is a perfect dance/pop anthem that coudl have been the theme to the Skins UK TV series too, talking of these young people partying and taking drugs and nightclubbing...
15. Party Song (3:40) from the Numb CD single
Another party song to match the Numb B-sides' theme apparently, and one which contains elements of KC & The Sunshine Band's hit That's the way (I like it) in the second half of the song. It has electro/noisy sounds, vocoder, and all, but it hasn't the same perfect appeal than the previous one ; only B-side material...
16. We're All Criminals Now (3:55) from the iTunes digital Love etc. single
Light and breezy, this nice pop song didn't fit the Xenomania produced Yes album but was a great B-side material !
17. Gin and Jag (4:29) from the Love etc. CDsingle
This bitter tale about the internet one night stands is all melancholic and wasn't one of my favourite one. I wish the previous one was the one on the CD single and this one only for download...
18. After the Event (5:16) from the Did You See Me Coming? 2-track CD
This electronic epic song relates to everyone, who have to face his life after some publicized death that has been all over the news. It is a very pleasant midtempo song like they are used to do, calm and acid at the same time...
19. The Former Enfant Terrible (2:51) from the Did You See Me Coming? maxi-CD
This vocoderized electronic short tune, written in 2005, although released in 2009, sounds like The sound of the atom splitting, part II to me ; and it is not one I really like...
20. Up and Down (3:43) from the Did You See Me Coming? maxi-CD
This electronic uptempo brings back a tune and disco inspired chorus ; a nice way to end this compilation, made of the ups and downs of the Pet Shop Boys' inspiration.
Fugitive (7'' mix) was B-side to third single Beautiful people off Yes but as it was an edit of a song first included on their Fundamentalism limited edition, maybe it hadn't its place here. Truth is there wasn't any space left...

With over 2 hours and 36 minutes of PSB music compiled, Format fits the bill completely but I can't help but regret there wasn't more room for the songs that weren't included and for the following ones :
My girl (a Madness cover) and Viva la vida/Domino dancing were B-sides to their 2009 Christmas EP release recycling their seasonal song It doesn't often snow at Christmas.
And I don't forget Glad all over and I cried for us, bot B-sides to Together, the single off their latest compilation album Ultimate, from 2010... Will there ever be enough material for a third B-side compilation from the Pet Shop Boys that will be starting with these ? I hope so, but I deeply know the best years of their career are behind us... I only wish they could write/produced more for others... I would so love to see them collaborate with Will Young on his next album for example !
But adding this Format CD box next to my already huge PSB CDs collection is a satisfying act in itself, something to help me wait for their next proper studio album... soon, I hope so.

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