Friday, October 8, 2010

A Particularly Uninspired Remix Album, Disco 3 Is An Underwhelming Pet Shop Boys Album.

The Good: Good vocals, Instrumentals aren't bad
The Bad: Instrumentals aren't superlative, Short, Remixes don't seem audacious.
The Basics: A disappointing addition to the Disco remix collection, Disco 3 combines remixes with a few new tracks in a short album that may be skipped.

I'm fairly sure that if I have been so immersed in the music of the Pet Shop Boys the way I was in July that if I have heard songs by them within the a three day period and cannot tell what is different in the remixes I listened to, it might not have been the most inspired set of remixes. That is where I fall on Disco 3" which has remixes of several songs I had heard in the days prior on the albums Nightlife and Release. Even though I listened to and reviewed those albums within the last few days, the songs that remix songs from those albums do not scream "Hey! We're doing something new!" to me. As a result, Disco 3 is a pretty underwhelming Pet Shop Boys album.

The Disco series of albums tend to consist of remixes of songs the Pet Shop Boys previously produced or Pet Shop Boys songs remixed by others. Disco 3 seems to be a weird divergence from that formula as several songs, like "If Looks Could Kill" and "Somebody Else's Business" appear on this album without having popped up on other albums (at least, not albums I can find or have in). As well, these apparently new songs are not followed by parentheticals letting the listeners know they are remixes. Disco 3 then is a fractured album that tries to return the Pet Shop Boys to their dance-pop roots and the overall sound of the album is far more mundane as a result.

With only ten songs occupying 51:50, Disco 3 is a less-inspired outing for the Pet Shop Boys. The album has a more collaborative creative process with only six of the songs being written exclusively by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. The other four songs are broken up by three songs they co-wrote and "Try It (I'm In Love With A Married Man)" which was written by Bobby Orlando. While the lead vocals are performed by Neil Tennant and the original instrumentation on the tracks was done by Chris Lowe, several of the remixes are other artist's interpretations on the Pet Shop Boys' songs. Thus, the Pet Shop Boys are only credited with producing four of the songs. They co-produce two of the other tracks with their co-writer Chris Zippel. But on tracks like "Home And Dry (Blank & Jones Remix)" it is unclear how much the Pet Shop Boys liked the sound and direction their sound was taken in. One presumes they were all right with it because they put it on their album.

Instrumentally, Disco 3 is homogeneously synthesizer and drum machine tracks. This is absolutely nothing new for fans of the Pet Shop Boys and Disco 3 does not sound unlike any number of other Pet Shop Boys albums because of that. The remix of "Home & Dry" by Blank & Jones takes one of the Pet Shop Boys ballads and makes it into a dance track. The thing is, even with their changes the song does not sound terribly different. The percussion is more evident and the new programming is a little more in-your-face, but because the vocals are still dominant and produced to be the primary thing one hears, it still sounds very much like the original version of the song. Even "Try It (I'm In Love With A Married Man)" is made to sound a lot like a typical Pet Shop Boys ballad with less extravagant synth work. There is nothing musically extraordinary on Disco 3.
Vocally, Neil Tennant's vocals are very much what they always are. Tennant has a range that traverses baritone and tenor registers and his vocals are clear as ever. Those who remix the Pet Shop Boys seem to respect his vocals by not altering them significantly with production elements like reverb. The result is, despite changes in production elements that make songs like "London" into more of a dance track with the "Thee Radikal Blacklite Edit," most of the vocals sound like the traditional mixes of the songs. The exceptions are the first two tracks, "Time On My Hands" and "Positive Role Model," neither of which are remixes. On those tracks, there are samples or mechanized voices for some of the lines.

Ultimately, what the Pet Shop Boys tend to do best is write music that has interesting lyrics. Disco 3 has songs that are largely about relationships and they shake up the usual formula by singing about more than just love and loss. With lines like "I think you're wasting my time / Crying and changing your mind . . . She's laughing out loud because / She's minding / Somebody else's business . . . Somebody's lying . . ." songs like "Somebody Else's Business" explore gossips, which is an atypical topic for a dance-pop song. Tennant and Lowe do a decent job with their musical sociology lesson, though.

But, like most Pet Shop Boys albums, several of the songs are focused on strife in relationships. Songs like "If Looks Could Kill" do that very well and it would have stood out on virtually any other album by the band. When Tennant sings "Where'd you go / With that threadbare crowd / Still in tow? / Do they appreciate your / Tales of woe? / Droning on and on / Lost your thread? / I'd be dead / If looks could kill / You think you're acting / In self-defense / But you're fooling no one / And you never will / The only crime is irrelevance / No wonder / You're worried / I'd be dead and buried still / If looks could kill" ("If Looks Could Kill"), the message is clear and the song characterizes anger well. Again, this is an atypical subject in a lot of pop-dance music, but the duo makes it work.

At the end of the day, though, Disco 3 is just uninspired. The remixes aren't clever or terribly original and the original tracks just do not pop well beside them. The result is an album that makes it feel like the Pet Shop Boys are phoning it in. Even so, there is just enough to the new tracks to drag it out of the abyss. Fortunately, immersing myself in the works of the Pet Shop Boys has illustrated to me that when the Pet Shop Boys get into a rut, they seldom stay in it for very long.

For other works by the Pet Shop Boys, please check out my reviews of:
How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? (single)
Discography: The Complete Singles
New York City Boy (single)
Pop Art: The Hits


For other music reviews, please check out my index page!

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

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