Monday, October 18, 2010

My Immersion In Pet Shop Boys Started Off With Disco 4!

The Good: Good remixes, Moments of musical creativity
The Bad: Very little original or spectacular content.
The Basics: Not a bad album, Disco 4 illustrates the creative talents of the Pet Shop Boys applied to other people's music in a very listenable work.

Arguably the purpose of my monthly immersion into different musical artists' works has a lot to do with trying to expand my horizons. I try to find artists whose work I am unfamiliar with or have had tragically limited experiences with. In the case of Pet Shop Boys, before July, all I knew by the band was Actually. My first new experience with Pet Shop Boys was their 2007 album Disco 4.

The Disco albums by Pet Shop Boys, I have since learned are essentially remix albums designed to take music they have done and play with it by changing the production elements in the songs. However, with Disco 4, the Pet Shop Boys play mostly with works by other artists and the result varies with each track, but ultimately makes for a very interesting album that sounds good, especially for dance-pop music.

With only eight tracks, it might seem natural to pan Disco 4 for not being terribly long, however with a running time of 56:28, it is longer than many c.d.s by artists with a greater number of tracks. The songs on Disco 4 are performed and written by other people, save the “Perfectly Immaculate” mix of “Integral” and the new maxi-mix of “I’m With Stupid,” both of which are by the Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe). The pair remixes all of the songs on the album and given that, it is worth me doing one of the rare track-by-track analyses as the album has a pretty homogenous musical quality as far as accompaniment. In other words, no matter who the artist is who originally performed the work, Pet Shop Boys makes their song over into a dance-pop number, occasionally adding their own supporting vocals to them.

Kicking off with the “Stars Are Blazing” remix of The Killers’ “Read My Mind,” Disco 4 gets off to a surprisingly melodic start. The song features smooth vocals and the trademark melody of the musing, lonely song, but the percussion is replaced with a very standard, obvious dance beat which makes the song sound like it belongs in a discotheque. Ironically, much of the song sounds very much like the original version by The Killers, only this version repeats itself more frequently. Given that I like the source material a lot, this remix is arguably my favorite of the album and it is enjoyable even with the minimal changes made to it.

Arguably the least intrusive mix is the Pet Shop Boys Extended remix of their duet with David Bowie, “Hallo Spaceboy.” That song, which features the delicious lines “Do you like girls or boys? / It’s confusing these days” performed by both Tennant and Bowie is an energetic dance song that actually tries to reflect on the changing times and does it well. There are sweeping synthesizers which give the song a very operatic quality that works for both the song and the band.

Unfortunately for “Integral” (Perfectly immaculate mix) which follows, the opening sounds a lot like the end to “Hallo Spaceboy.” This song features the band with vocals made mechanized and constant crowd noises which are just annoying. I know dance-pop tends to be a communal experience with people getting energetic for it, but with this remix I just feel like I am stuck at a concert with a bunch of people I would not want to be around otherwise. This is not the best remix the band has ever done.

After that epic song, I had my first musical experience with Yoko Ono as the group remixed her song “Walking On Thin Ice.” What opens as a very obvious synthpop, electronica song develops nicely as Ono’s high pitched vocals come in to dominate over the instrumentals. This is a song that I had to listen to a few times before I truly enjoyed it, but the clarity of Ono’s vocals contrasts nicely with the murky quality of the instrumental accompaniment.

I recall not especially enjoying Madonna’s original version of “Sorry” when I heard her album Confessions From A Dance Floor but in context on this dance-pop album it sounds energetic and her voice actually sounds fresh and clear. Tennant sings some additional lines on the song, but largely it is an anthem about a woman standing up for herself and it rocks well as a result!

I had also never heard of the group Atomizer, but their song “Hooked On Radiation” followed with the “Orange Alert remix.” The song is an energetic mix with troubling lyrics about killing celebrities. The song is very much a random dance song where the words are thrown out more to be danced to than actually make a coherent song and the only way I realized I might even like it was I found myself listing those words (“bad boy / bleach blonde / sex toy / hand gun”) and humming the tune. It is a rare time I find a song fun and just enjoy the sound of it!

This energetic song was followed by the deep, angry German vocals of Rammstein and the “There are no guitars on this mix” mix. Rammstein seems like an odd choice for Pet Shop Boys to remix and the dance beat does nothing for me against the German growling. This is the weakest track on the album (not just because I cannot understand the lyrics, but because it sounds so angry!).

The album closes with the Pet Shop Boys song “I’m With Stupid” and their own remix of the song. This has a very classic Pet Shop Boys sound, meaning it is energetic, quirky and easy to dance to. The song is a dance pop track that might not be one of their most memorable, but it is fun enough and it sounds like just what it is, a Pet Shop Boys dance song. The bassline and drum machines are repetitive and predictable, which makes me hope I’ll run into the original and it might be a better song.

Ultimately, despite fairly repetitive basslines and drum machines, Disco 4 works because the Pet Shop Boys have an interesting ear for the source material and they have a way of playing with it that makes it all sound new and fresh again!

For other Pet Shop Boys works, please check out my reviews of:
How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? (single)
Discography: The Complete Singles
Was It Worth It? (single)
Se A Vida E (single)
I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More (single)
New York City Boy (single)
Pop Art: The Hits
Disco 3


For other music reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!

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

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  1. Hi !

    It's been a while since I've listened to Disco 4 but the one thing I remember is that, like you, I prefered PSB's version of Madonna's track "Sorry" then her own and I find that Neil Tennant's voice didn't seem that out of place as a background vocal to a Madonna song, strange, but I liked it.

    The one thing that surprise me the most, though, is how much emphasis you put (in almost every album review) on the total running time of each album, it's something I'm not as obsessed about as you seem to be.

    To be honest, I prefer a perfect 10-track album which is only about 40 to 50 minutes than an 18-track album where the medium might be completely full (say of 74 or even 79 minutes of music) but where they might be a lot of fillers.

    I’m maybe old-fashionned since I’ve discovered my love to music with LP’s before the CD came but I’m not sure the extra minutes that the CD brought us, is always such a good thing because sometimes it is but sometimes it ain’t.

    1. I put emphasis on running time for a sense of value. I want music that uses the capacity of the c.d. as opposed to copping out after only 40 minutes. I don't like to waste space!

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!