Please/Further Listening 1984-1986

Pet Shop Boys

Parlophone, 2001

REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/24/2008

I wasn’t all that surprised when the Pet Shop Boys canceled their show at the Hollywood Bowl in late 2006. I was pretty disappointed though. The PSB website blamed logistical problems, which seemed suspect to me. My guess was that the show was canceled due to lack of interest. That made more sense, especially since less than a year before that they had played the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, a substantially smaller venue. From the get go, I thought it was odd that the PSB would be booked to headline a show at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006; I don’t know that they could have managed that even at the height of their stateside success.

Pet Shop Boys lost steam in America over twenty years ago.

For most U.S. listeners, awareness of the Pet Shop Boys sort of begins and ends with “West End Girls” and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money).” Still, the synth-pop duo continues to sell out stadiums in every other part of the world -- just not here. Both the Wiltern and Hollywood Bowl shows were in support of the PSB’s excellent 2006 album, Fundamental, a strong record that proved once again how successfully the critic’s darlings had managed to maintain their dance culture relevance twenty years after their debut.

In 2001, the entire PSB catalog -- everything up to 1996’s Bilingual -- received a complete overhaul by Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant, the gentlemen behind the music. Each album was remastered, repackaged, and expanded in a series called my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Pet Shop Boys: Further Listening. Fantastic sonic restoration, sleeve note expansion with interviews, and a bonus disc of unreleased material made each installment in the series a dream for PSB fans.

The Pet Shop Boys’ debut album Please, the first included in this set, remains their strongest album. It’s a perfect and dignified pop album, one of those debuts that give a clear indication that the artist(s) are going to become something special.

Album opener “Two Divided By Zero” stands out as one of the record’s finest moments and also one of the best of their catalog: “Let’s not go home / We’ll take the late train. I’ve got enough money to pay on the way,” Neil Tennant sings over a thick reverb-drenched synth pad. “West End Girls,” the song for which Tennant and Lowe are best known both stateside and across the Atlantic, is the second track on the album and it’s probably the best song they’ve ever written.

Other monumentally big singles like “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” and “Suburbia” are nestled between lesser known tracks such as the gorgeous “Love Comes Quickly” and the deliciously remixable “Tonight Is Forever.” Overall, Please is rock-solid as a single unit.

The second disc in this set -- the Further Listening portion -- is a real treasure. Disc two finds the PSB in their youngest, most primitive and charming form. Focusing mainly on the 12-inch and 7-inch single versions of both the album tracks and the B-sides, Further Listening 1984-1986 is a disc every PSB fan should own.

B-sides “A Man Could Get Arrested,” “That’s My Impression,” “Was That What It Was,” “Jack The Lad,” and “Paninaro” perfectly exemplify and capture the synth-pop-dance-club intentions of Tennant and Lowe. Extended versions of “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money),” “West End Girls,” “Love Comes Quickly,” and “Why Don’t We Live Together,” are all in perfect pop form here and combined with the B-sides make for an exciting tour through the earliest of the PSB masterpieces.

In a documentary on fellow synth gurus New Order, Neil Tennant tells the story of the first time he heard the New Order mega smash-hit “Blue Monday.” He claims he began to cry because the track incorporated precisely the kind of sound, texture, and structure that he had hoped to perfect with Lowe. New Order had gotten there first. To a certain degree that’s true; mostly not though. The Pet Shop Boys refined synth-pop and dance music, taking it to the next level. They were the academic and thinking man’s dance duo and were always sort of in a class of their own. New Order has broken up.

And Pet Shop Boys remain, still in a class of their own.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Parlophone, and is used for informational purposes only.