Saturday, March 28, 2009

Album review: Pet Shop Boys - Yes (4.5/5)

My first and favorite Pet Shop Boys album was Very. Released in 1993, it was the perfect gay '90s dance pop statement--a collection of upbeat but brooding perfect pop songs. Since then, Pet Shop Boys have been uneven. While I loved the more worldly dance pop of Bilingual, and even enjoyed the dramatic flair of Nightlife, I was unimpressed with the MOR sound of Release. Fundamental was a welcome turn back to the band's synth pop roots, but it was also rather dark and political, which made it interesting, but not the frothy late night joy they'd once delivered. Certainly not as purely fun as Yes, which, even more than Fundamental, hearkens back to their early '90s elegant synth and dance pop roots. It sounds a lot like Behaviour and Very, which isn't a bad thing at all. It's also their most cohesive and enjoyable set since those career high points.

Yes opens with the atypical "Love Etc." It's rather dark and pessimistic when compared to the rest of the album. Frankly, I'm not really into this song. Like U2's No Line on the Horizon's "Get on Your Boots," I find it an odd choice for the first single. It's okay, but the next six tracks are much better. First up is "All Over the World," which proudly borrows from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, blaring its synth horns. It's quite fun, but nothing on the album compares to "Beautiful People," my favorite track. In the wake of Amy Winehouse and Duffy, we've heard more than our fair share of late '60s-curbing British pop, but this song is undeniably good, with its string touches and built up chorus.

Bubbly "Did You See Me Coming?" follows, announcing that "you don't have to be in 'who's who' to know what's what." It so very Very, which makes it quite lovable. "Vulnerable" slows the tempo down, but delivers another melodic highlight. Lyrically, it tells the story of a celebrity who declares to his lover that deep down he's emotionally vulnerable and needs love even though he projects a tough exterior in public. An honest confession or a play to get some action? From a band known for its irony, I'm willing to entertain it's the latter. This is another track that would have been at home on Very.

Two more really great dance pop songs follow. "More than a Dream" is another winning early '90s-styled dance pop number, with a particularly good chorus augmented with handclaps and extra keyboard. It's good, but "Building a Wall" is even better. It has a great synth melody and features Neil Tennant's announcer-style rap that we remember so well from the band's earlier work. This is the album's most socially conscious moment, reflecting on anti-immigration policy. "Pandemonium" is another slice of charging electro dance pop, similar to "More than a Dream," but sunnier.

The latter half of the album features its slowest, most reflective tracks, which aren't bad, but not as good as the energetic dance pop that precedes them. "King of Rome" is a mellower, laid back synth pop song. It's the better of the album's slowest moments. "The Way It Used to Be" reflects on a broken relationship with a good dose of melancholy, synthesizers and piano. "Legacy" starts off with "that's it, the end," but not quite, as it goes on for over 6 minutes. It's kind of a mess, and definitely my least favorite track. Instead of going out with a bang like Very with "Go West," Yes ends on a whimper. Still, that's probably my only major gripe, as otherwise I like the album a lot.

Much has been made about the fact that Xenomania, the production house behind Girls Aloud among others, produced this album. I'm scratching my head to see what they contributed, as this sounds so much like old school PSB that I don't see why they couldn't have come up with this on their own. While drawing inspiration from mid '80s synth pop continues to be the sound du jour among many indie bands and pop starlets, it's nice to hear one of that sound's most prominent creators flex their old school muscle and show us all how it's done.

Best: Beautiful People, Building a Wall, Vulnerable, All Over the World, Did You See Me Coming?, More than a Dream, Pandemonium


Chris said...

Didn't you play "Beautiful People" when we were folding laundry the other night? I think I liked that one. On a related note: I think some of your socks wound up in my drawer.

Paul said...

Beautiful People is gorgeous. Sadly no one played it while i was folding the laundry and all i got was my own socks in my own drawers. which is good in a way.... Pandemonium is also amazing. Great write up :)

ww_adh said...

Thanks. I'm really glad the album is good. I hope Beautiful People is the second single. Pandemonium is a bit buried, coming so late on the album, but I agree it's good too. About those socks...