in the limelight – pet shop boys

 

Yes
Pet Shop Boys
Parlophone/Astralwerks
US Release Date 21 April 2009

You’d think I’d have posted about them enough times on this blog. Hey guess what! The Pet Shop Boys have a new record coming out and I hear it’s bloody fantastic! Actually I can’t refer to them as the Pet Shop Boys anymore, can I? Rumour has it that they were going to switch their name to the Rescue Shelter Boys at the request of PETA.  Kind of puts a crimp on the US release, now doesn’t it? At any rate, Love Etc is number two on the Billboard US Dance Chart while Yes in the UK debuted at #4 on the album charts. That said, the question remains… After all the hubbub and posting and praise, is the new Pet Shop Boys any good? 
1. Love Etc 3.33

The record starts off with a bang with the first single. I think you all know how I feel about this track but in case this is the first time here I will try to keep it brief. The song is simply one of the best songs the PSB have written. Why? There are hooks everywhere. From the whimsical verses to the call and response chorus. You don’t just like the song. You fall victim to it. Simply as close to a perfect pop song as you can get from a band who is as good as anybody at writing them.
2. All Over The World 3.51

If you’re going to follow up a stunner like Love Etc, it had better bring the force with it. They don’t come much harder than All Over The World. Oh, those handclaps and the majestic lead segueing into the verses that fill my heart with glee! The song itself is a call to arms, a call to stop what you’re doing, to stop hating and stressing and simply celebrate. Only Neil Tennant can get away with writing a song this jubilant that doesn’t fall into the depths of melted Velveeta and only Chris Lowe can add the proper punctuation mark.
3. Beautiful People 3.42

A bit of a change of pace and a bit of a nod to Release where the Boys got their Britpop on. The unofficial third Pet Shop Boy and new wave/indie guitar deity, Johnny Marr, is back and adds his ax and harmonica talents to a swinging track that sounds like it could have been written in the 1960s and sung by the Walker Brothers or to a lesser degree, performed by the Last Shadow Puppets. Here we have Tennant wishing aloud that he could be someone different with a more exciting life or a life vastly different than the one he has now. I don’t know about you but I will gladly trade places with him any day…
4. Did You See Me Coming? 3.43

With a gentle strum of the guitar by Mr. Marr, we then fast-forward to a mid-tempo stunner. A personal highlight of the record. DYSMC  is simply a classic pop song. An arresting pop song that reminds you of the highs found on the classic Very. This is simply a song that dares you to sit still while listening. It won’t be long before you’re up dancing and swaying your arms in the air in glee. This song begs to be a single.
5.  Vulnerable 4.51

“You know I can’t ever bear to seem weak or have any doubts. That’s just my technique. I put in the hours, at least I don’t shirk A little bravado does much of the work”. Another lyrical gem from one of the best lyricists in pop music within the last 30 years. A mid-tempo ballad where the guard is let down and Neil lays it on the line. No more games. No more pretense. Here he is…come and get him! The most stripped down song on record with a steady motorik beat and some simple strumming from Marr. This is Neil’s show and Chris drops the beat and simply gets out of the way. 
6. More Than A Dream 4.59

Or more simply the sound of being at peace and feeling completely immersed in the music on the dance floor. HI-NRG lite here. A straight-ahead dance number which drives home the point of the record to this point. This is an upbeat record where the PSB are reclaiming the title of being pop songwriters extraordinaire. George Michael should be doing a facepalm right about…now. He used to write this type of song in his sleep.
7. Building A Wall 3.50

What? What’s this? A vocal cameo from Chris Lowe? It simply cannot be! We’ve got a bit of a political anthem on BAW continuing a trend started on the previous record, Fundamental, with a track like Integral. Much like Integral, BAW doesn’t fall into the trap of being agit-prop but it does get the point across as you’re being seduced by the melody. Not a stunner like many of the songs preceding it on the record but not a clunker by any stretch either. Think of it as somewhat of a breather before the slap you’re about to receive a little later. 
8. King Of Rome 5.31

Slow song alert! Lovelorn and wide-eyed. Neil is in a contemplative state of mind and the backdrop simply serves as a guide as he wishes and pleads for the return of his dearest one and a return to the way things were. A solid, solemn piece that sets you up for…
9. Pandemonium 3.46

Aptly titled. Another one from the PSB template that no other band can match. The straightforward, head down, gate-crashing pop anthem. They take another page from the Very playbook here and once again come up aces with another single-worthy track. Word is this was written for Kylie Minogue to record but she never got back to them whether she wanted it or not. Her loss. She could use this song right about now. No matter. Her version would have fallen way short of the majesty of the PSB version we have here.
10. The Way It Used To Be 4.46

or a reminder that almost twenty years later, Behaviour, really is a classic record. The penultimate track on the record is also the finest. So sad. So cloaked in despair. So entrancing. So irresistable. To put it simply, Neil and Chris take no prisoners here. Neil with all the desperation he can muster in his voice soars and Chris once again sets the stage by leaving no frills and letting Neil have the floor as he tries to come to grips with a relationship past its crisis point and well on its way to crumbling at his feet. Have you ever felt like dancing simply because sitting down was too painful as it allowed your brain to replay all the memories you can’t repress fast enough? This is your soundtrack.
11. Legacy 6.21

“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?” The record comes to a close with a comment on the hysteria and paranoia we’ve been subject to and are guilty of falling prey to as a society. The highlight here is the middle eight section with a little pomp and circumstance thrown in for effect as Neil sings a bit of French for our ears. 
It must be said that the MVP of Yes is Xenomania, the producers of the record led by Brian Higgins. What they did here was not so much infuse their style on Neil and Chris but become the perfect foil by bringing back the essence and strength of what made the PSB the pop icons they are. By mining bits and pieces of the past triumphs and adding a new pop sheen over it, we bear witness to a match made in pop heaven. What’s more astounding is the balance that is kept. The record is very poppy but doesn’t feel like it. It simply sounds like a PSB record or even better yet, a greatest hits record made up of songs you hadn’t heard but still feel familiar because the footprints of the classic PSB catalogue are sprinkled throughout making it perfect for old fans to reaffirm their love for the band and for new fans to see why the eighties were the last essential decade for musical innovation and evolution and no one else has done a better job of remaining as relevant and the chamelonic ability to change with the times as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. 
This just might be their best record they’ve ever done.





in the limelight – morrissey

Morrissey

Years Of Refusal

Lost Highway

 

It is high time. After all the hubbub. The blathering and blabbering. It’s time. Once and for all, the question must be answered. Is Years Of Refusal any good? Does the Mozfather still have it? Friends. I put Morrissey in the limelight and under the microscope!

 

1. Something Is Squeezing My Skull 2.38

The record leads off in a big way with Skull. Short and sweet, it’s one of those songs Morrissey can write in his sleep. Self-deprecation and despair put to paper with his brand of sardonic wit and a smirk on his face. This track should be a single and features one of his better vocal performances. The band is in fine form here as well. 

2. Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed 3.53

The music belies a more somber, poignant lyric. The pressures of society beating a mother down until the final solution is pursued.  Asleep, this is not. A defiant Moz promises revenge and shows empathy for Mother’s plight. A solid track, to be sure.

3. Black Cloud 2.48

Featuring guitar legend Jeff Beck on the axe, Cloud is the last of the three rockers to start the album. The name of the game is unrequited love. A subject Moz knows all too well and that we all have felt in our lives and most likely still do. No one writes about it quite like the Moz with a line such as “I can choke myself to please you and I can sink much lower than usual but there’s nothing I can do to make you mine”. 

4. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris 2.31

The lead single. Another tale of woe and another lover never to be. Do we sense a pattern? That’s okay because the melody is lovely and the band (whom I’m never been a fan of regardless of lineup) simply offers a beautiful bed for Morrissey to find comfort in only to come to the harsh realisation that only stone and steel accept his love. This one could very well down as one of his most-loved songs over time.

5. All You Need Is Me 3.13

If you own 2008’s  Greatest Hits, then you already know this song as it was one of two singles tacked on in the endless quest for your dollar. The song itself is Morrissey-by-numbers but it’s not a bad thing. Much like Something Is Squeezing My Skull, it’s a song he writes from rote memory but the execution and the delivery are what nails it. He’s done it before but with lines such as “I was a small, fat child in a council house There was only one thing I ever dreamed about And Fate has just Handed it to me – whoopee”, it’s really hard to quibble. It was a solid as a single and it’s a highlight here.

6. When Last I Spoke To Carol 3.24

One of the best performances by the band on this one. Adding a bit of a Spanish lilt adds to this deathly tale. Interesting lyric by Moz on this one. A memory of a c0nversation between he and “Carol” which ends in his saying goodbye at her funeral. Another tale of unrequited love but this time from the other person’s point of view? One of my favourites on the record.

7. That’s How People Grow Up 2.59

The second of the two singles from last year’s Greatest Hits along with the aforementioned All You Need Is Me. Not as well-received when released but the criticism is not completely warranted. Not a skip-over track but it is one where the hook doesn’t grab you as much as the other album tracks do. A bit reminiscent lyrically of Stop Me If YouThink You’ve Heard This One Before

8. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell 2.57

A stern warning from Moz. Be careful who you hurt for life is fleeting and you may never have a chance to say you’re sorry. Another stellar performance by the band. So vibrant, so bold. It’s a favourite and definitely a single possibility!

9. It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore 5.10

“All the gifts that they gave can’t compare in any way to the love I am now giving to you right here right now on the floor”. Oh really, Steven? What are you trying to tell us here? I don’t know but to me this song is carrying on from a trend begun in Dear God Please Help Me from Ringleader Of The Tormentors of Morrissey being a bit more direct and self-referential in terms of his sexual desires. It’s quite refreshing and adds a new dimension to his lyrical oeuvre not quite seen before.

10. You Were Good In Your Time 5.01

A slow song about what else but death. A lament for the dearly deaprted set against a reflective backdrop. Interesting placement in the tracklisting as it almost lulls you into a sort of dreamlike state before you’re brought back to attention by the songs that follow. Solid piece.

11. Sorry Doesn’t Help 4.03

A rocking tune where have our hero giving a former friend (lover, perhaps) the hand. Angry Moz is a good Moz. 

12. I’m OK By Myself 4.48

The album comes to a close with one of its more rockier tracks and some of the best lyrics as well. “Could this be an arm around my waist? Well, surely the hand contains a knife?” or “Then came an arm around my shoulder Well surely the hand holds a revolver?” are two of examples of why Morrissey is one of the greatest lyricists pop music has ever known. The song itself could have been featured on Ringleader but does have it’s own charm especially as a book-end along with Something Is Squeezing My Skull. An affirmation that he’s not going anywhere and that he still has a way of getting underneath the skin of his detractors and into the hearts of a devoted fanbase.

The verdict? This is as solid a Morrissey record as they come. Is it his best? Hard to say. It’s definitely better than the disappointing Ringleader that came before it. It shows a Morrissey who appears to be not quite ready to go off the dark night of retirement as he turns fifty in May. Some of his best melodies are found in spades here along with the same vitriol and wit that fist made him a phenomenon 26 years ago with Hand In Glove. In other words, the king is back.