I’ve mentioned that I went off Pet Shop Boys almost through their “Very” campaign back in 1993-1994. This was primarily down to their techno DJ styled single remixes which were very [a bitter “hah!] repetitive and reductive. So by some time in 1994, I went from buying every PSB release with something I didn’t have to none at all.
<fast forward 20 years…>
In 2014, I saw Pet Shop Boys live for the second time at Moogfest. It was a fantastic show and I had been trying to buy their new CD, “Electric,” prior to that event, but it was simply not available where I live. So that still hasn’t happened, but not for lack of trying. Later that year I saw their “Fundamental” CD in a thrift store for $1.50 and gambled 12 bits and found that I really enjoyed it a lot, so the brief since then was to buy the odd PSB album I didn’t already own and give it a try.
<fast forward 8 years…>
So last month I was antiquing with my loved one as we had not done much in the last 20 years. One of the dealers in an antique mall has CDs and a cursory glance released an odd, metallic mauve CD O-card with an all-white jewel box inside. Hmmmm. It was “Release” by Pet Shop Boys. Nothing I see on a regular basis. Unlike “Nightlife” or “Bilingual,” which are pretty much the only PSB CDs I ever see…anywhere. If another dealer didn’t have two 7″ singles I’d wanted to buy, I might have passed up on the “Release” CD. I seem to recall seeing it my last time in the antique mall, at least four or five years earlier, but that day I was not in a buying mood. The asking price was $3.00 with 20% off, so $2.40. It was the US 2xCD edition, is was clearly aiming for classy but stopped far short of that goal. I found it garish and ugly. Not a look I’d ever associates with the normally perfect design team of of PSB/Mark Farrow. Hopefully it would sound better than it looked.
Pet Shop Boys: Release – US – 2xCD 
Disc 1 – Album
- Home + Dry
- I Get Along
- Birthday Boy
- The Samurai In Autumn
- Love Is A Catastrophe
- The Night I Fell In Love
- You Choose
Disc 2 – Supplemental
- Home + Dry [Ambient Mix]
- Sexy Northerner
- Closer To Heaven [Slow Version As On Daily Telegraph CD]
- Friendly Fire
- Break 4 Love [Radio Edit]
- Home + Dry [Trance Mix]
I could not believe the artwork for this. Pet Shop Boys had what I thought was an ironclad relationship with Mark Farrow such that Pet Shop Boys cover art occuped a reliable niche in the highest caliber of sleeve design. That work was always powerful and economical; redolent of a well-thought-through aesthetic. This disc, on the other hand was redolent of mid-80s US shopping mall. Metallic mauve and flat white plastic. I could smell the tanning beds and hair care products just by looking at it.
The opaque white jewel box/booklet had the band name and title in spot varnish on the flat white plastic/paper, which would normally make me quite happy, but I felt that the embossed metallic rose O-card was the thing that stuck in my craw and irritated. The booklet revealed that Mark Farrow had nothing to worry about. His reputation was still intact. This CD was art directed by Greg Foley, who had one Paul Simon cover credit to his name prior to this and only a handful following this. The designer was Visionaire with Tatiana Gaz and Jake McCabe; tellingly, the only credit for all three here on Discogs. Would the music make me forget the design gaffes?
In a word, no.
The album kicked off with the seriously underwhelming “Home + Dry” which I found hard to believe that it was regarded as single material as the song was PSB at a level dishwater dull I had never encountered before. Yet, when I looked at PSB’s Discogs profile I was clearly shown which of the songs on this album were singles, and the images are duly embedded, so there’s no denying it! The equally inspirational sleeve art fit the music on it perfectly. Nothing to see [or hear] here…move along!
Until right now, I had no idea what were singles form this album. I’m apoplectic that the Beatlesque drivel that was “I Get Along” would ever pass muster as a Pet Shop Boys single. They pull every trick in the Beatles fakebook book on this one and as a result, the subtle synth ostinato that was battling against and guitars playing a single, repetitive, chord right…on…the…beat couldn’t help but roll over and play dead from the neck up. Knowing that Chris Lowe deliberately programmed his synths to sound like a french horn and strings makes me wonder if he lost a bet before this album was made. Without fail, this was certainly the worst Pet Shop Boys song I’d ever heard. And at 5:49, there was a lot of it to hear!
But this album was young. “Birthday Boy” was a leaden, plodding Jesus metaphor, heavy on the acoustic guitar, that dared me to push the >>| button. And at 6:26, was even longer and more unendurable than the previous song had been. It didn’t help that Neil Tennant sounded like he was on downers the whole time this dreary scenario was committed to hard drive. The third single from the album was the track “London,” which consisted of the twin affronts of acoustic guitars with Tennant’s Auto-Tuned vocal for the first minute! The scenario of Russians emigrating to the West had been done miles better as subtext in their 1993 cover of The Village’ People’s “Go West.” Strike three for the singles here, which were top loaded unwisely as three of the first four tracks.
“E-Mail” began with a modem handshake sound before the familiar “West End Girls” chord sequence, rendered identically on string patches, but saddled with the dreaded shuffle beat from a decade earlier landed a gut punch on me. The lyrics were as banal as I’ve ever heard from the formerly adroit pen of Tennant. I’d picked up on a vibe from fans discussing the band in forums over the last 25 years that the band had been struggling while I hadn’t been paying attention, but I was unprepared for just how badly they were flailing. On the evidence of this album so far, I’m astonished that the band still existed and managed to pull their smoking fat out of the fire for “Fundamental” four years hence.
Next: …The Repreive