Saturday, September 25, 2010

Usurped By A Better Compilation Discography: The Complete Singles Isn't The Ultimate Pet Shop Boys!

The Good: Good vocals, Decent lyrics, Nice music, Good duration.
The Bad: There is a better compilation with all but one of these tracks.
The Basics: A great compilation that is virtually worthless now that Pop Art is available, Discography: The Complete Singles is not worth buying anymore.

In July 2010, the Pet Shop Boys were my Artist Of The Month and one of the last albums I reviewed was their compilation album Discography: The Complete Singles.” And while virtually everyone else in the world might recommend it, I do not. If this were 2000, I probably would recommend it, but it is not. Instead, in 2010, there is a vastly better way to get all of the Pet Shop Boys music one would ever want if they could only have one anthology and that is on Pop Art: The Hits. What is the difference?

Well, Pop Art has two discs worth of music, including songs that were released after the release of Discography. While Discography: The Complete Singles includes two new tracks (“DJ Culture” and “Was It Worth It?”), Pop Art includes all of the songs from Discography (except “Was It Worth It?”) plus an additional disc worth of songs, many of which easily hold their own against the early works of Pet Shop Boys. For those who might be unfamiliar with the Pet Shop Boys, Discography: The Complete Singles (a name which becomes more false with each passing new album they release) is a great introduction to many of the high points of the band, but Pop Art is for anyone who falls in love with what they hear on this album.

With eighteen songs occupying 76:54, Discography: The Complete Singles is largely the creative work of the Pet Shop Boys. The duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe wrote thirteen of the songs, co-wrote an additional two with only three of their songs being cover songs. Neil Tennant provides almost all of the lead vocals and Chris Lowe plays the keyboards and programs the drums on almost every track. The duo is credited as co-producers on the album as well, so this is very much a celebration of their musical vision.

And the musical legacy of the Pet Shop Boys on Discography: The Complete Singles is split between dance-pop ditties and pop ballads that still resonate. Virtually all of the songs that have become hit singles for the band, at least up to the point of this compilation, were keyboard-driven and have a danceable sound to them. “Heart” uses synthesizers to create a danceable, throbbing tune that mimics the beating of a heart and “Domino Dancing” has a remarkably recognizable tune that succeeds to to contrasts in high and low end registers on the keyboards competing. The percussion is generally minimal, except on “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” where the drums pound almost at the expense of the melody. Largely, though, the songs have dance beats and are keyboard and drum tracks that still have an original quality and an effective hook today.

Part of the reason for the effectiveness of the hooks are the vocals of Neil Tennant. Tennant has pretty amazing vocal range. He goes lower and almost mechanized in his vocals on the song “Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)” which gives the song a brilliant, menacing undertone to it which works beautifully with the theme. By contrast, Tennant sings higher and slower on “Always On My Mind,” which brings out the soul-wrenching humanity of what he is singing about. More often than not, Tennant picks a register and sticks with it for a single song, but track to track Discography: The Complete Singles sounds amazing and illustrates a vocal artist who has pretty exceptional range.

The Pet Shop Boys largely endure because their songs have great lyrics. Many of their songs are not just inane pop-dance songs which repeat the same lyrics over and over again. Instead, they tend to sing musical storysongs backed by dance-pop beats and instrumentals. The group uses pretty impressive diction in their storysongs like when they sing “Dictation being forced in Afghanistan / Revolution in South Africa taking a stand / People in Eurasia on the brink of oppression / I hope it's going to be alright / I hope the music plays forever / Forests falling at a desperate pace / The earth is dying, and desert taking its place / People under pressure on the brink of starvation / I hope it's gonna be alright / 'Cause the music plays forever / I hope it's gonna be alright” ("It's Alright"). The duo is socially-conscious and smart and they do not play to the lowest common denominator with their music.

Even in their more inane pop songs (I am not impressed by “DJ Culture”), the band has something to say. The men of Pet Shop Boys are unabashedly liberal and they bring that to their lyrics. As a result, they make “Imagine a war which everyone won / Permanent holiday in endless sun / Peace without wisdom, one steals to achieve / Relentlessly, pretending to believe / Attitudes are materialistic, positive or frankly realistic / Which is terribly old-fashioned, isn't it? / Or isn't it? / (DJ Culture) Dance with me / (DJ Culture) Let's pretend / Living in a satellite fantasy / Waiting for the night to end” ("DJ Culture") danceable and that helps keep the message fresh.

As well, the men of Pet Shop Boys write and sing about human relationships. The Pet Shop Boys are frequently beset by angst and on Discography: The Complete Singles, some of their best songs are represented in storysongs that explore angst. With the classic lines “I come here looking for money / (Got to have it) / And end up living with love, oh, oh / Now you left me with nothing / (Can't take it) / How am I gonna get through? . . . I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers / I read you books and talked for hours / Every day, so many drinks / Such pretty flowers, so tell me / What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this” ("What Have I Done To Deserve This?") the duo burst out with a pop hit that explored the awkwardness of an unbalanced relationship. Even when the Pet Shop Boys are making songs to dance to, they have something to say.

And for those who want to listen, Discography: The Complete Singles is a near miss. They have so much more to present and Pop Art has it. Pick that up instead.

The best track is “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” the low point is “DJ Culture.”

For other works by men, please check out my reviews of:
Wonderwall - Oasis
Saturday Night Fever - The Bee Gees
Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell - Meat Loaf


For other music reviews, check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. Hi !

    As a Pet Shop Boys fan, I must say that I agree with you in most of the things you say. It's true that the Pet Shop Boys are one of those very special music bands where the lyrics are always as important (if not more) than the music itself and it's true that D.j. Culture (although it has meaningful lyrics) is not on par, with the rest of those great songs.

    But to me, although my favourite song on Discography is Domino Dancing, I must admit that the best one might be It's a sin. Because even both my parents who are more than eighty years old now find that its music is great and they don't like dance music much usually, so...

    But I still think Discography is worth buying for because it has Heart's single version and Was it worth it where PopArt only has Heart album version which is a little more lackluster.

    As a fan I obviously own both these compilations and I also have a special place in my heart for PopArt because it has my favourite Pet Shop Boys song ever which is Miracles. But I still find Discography releveant to this day, for those reasons but it's true that what it will need now, is a little remastering.