Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Pet Shop Boys Return With Yes, A Vibrant, But Typical Album By The Band.

The Good: Good lyrics, Good vocals, Decent music.
The Bad: SHORT! Very typical sound for the Pet Shop Boys.
The Basics: A generally good album, Yes suffers most from being short, but returns the Pet Shop Boys to the collective consciousness quite well.

Before my library changed its interlibrary loan policy, it was still pretty rare for me to have gotten in the most current releases. So, when I was studying the Pet Shop Boys, I was quite glad to have gotten my hands on the group’s latest album, Yes. Frankly, with the band not having the popularity it once had in the United States, getting in Pet Shop Boys albums via interlibrary loans has been a little more problematic than it once was. But, apparently, Kansas City has a pretty rockin’ musical library and before my local library became much more restrictive on how many interlibrary loans from out of system I could get each month, they managed to get me in Yes from half the country away. And, largely, it is worth it.

Yes is both what one expects from the Pet Shop Boys and a surprisingly fresh sound for the dance-pop duo. With an emphasis on social messages and danceable beats, the Pet Shop Boys return to making new, original music that has punch and resonates even after one is done listening to the album over and over again. But more than many of the recent albums by the group, Yes has the hooks one expects to hear when listening to dance-pop. There are tunes on Yes that are distinct, one listens to and thinks “yeah, that could be a hit single” and they want to hear again. In other words, the Pet Shop Boys have all the makings of a return to popularity with Yes.

With only eleven tracks occupying 48:39, Yes is a more collaborative original (non-remix) album by the Pet Shop Boys than some of their others. The duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe wrote only eight of the tracks, with the other three being co-wrote by others who appear as additional musicians on the album. Neil Tennant provides all of the lead vocals, as usual, though Chris Lowe notably has additional vocals on “Building A Wall.” As usual, Chris Lowe performs all of the primary keyboards and programming on the album, though Tennant adds keyboards and programming of his own to several of the tracks. The Pet Shop Boys are credited as co-producers of the album, though, so it is hard to argue this is not the sound the duo wanted for their first original album in three years.

The instrumental accompaniment on Yes is what most people would expect of the Pet Shop Boys. Regardless of the lyrical content, the sound of the songs is largely dance-pop and it is keyboard and drum machine driven. Even so, new songs like “Vulnerable” and “Building A Wall” stand out for having strong melodies which stick in the head of the listener far better than many of the other tracks from the band on recent albums. Instead of just making mellow storysongs which meander through the lyrics, on Yes, songs like “All Over The World” have a catchy, memorable melody that makes the instrumental accompaniment stand out, even if it is pretty much what one expects from the Pet Shop Boys.

Vocally, Yes is a reminder that Neil Tennant is a master of range. He has great register range from moments of baritone performance through falsetto and on Yes, he traverses that entire range well. On “Building A Wall,” he gets accompaniment backing from Chris Lowe and the back and forth undercuts the dour message of the song with a deliciously subversive quality. As always, the duo performs all of the lyrics with a clarity that makes it clear that the intent of the album is to be heard and to get a message across.

And that message is socially conscious, as always, on Yes. More than just singing about interpersonal relationships, on Yes, the Pet Shop Boys explore the terror of the way the world is changing. When Tennant and Lowe sing “I'm building a wall / A fine wall / Not so much to keep you out / More to keep me in / Back then on a bomb site / We were spies among the ruins / Such precocious barbarians / On TV we saw / Cold War / Protection (prevention) / Detection (detention) / There's no where to defect to any more” (“Building A Wall”) they perfectly embody a sense of reality and paranoia that is distinct in pop music. Moreover, the level of diction the duo uses is far higher than most of their peers, making the Pet Shop Boys an intelligent alternative to a usually banal genre.

Despite having great social messages on many of their songs on Yes, the Pet Shop Boys also explore interpersonal relations and on Yes they capture beautifully the sense of weakness of the human animal. With lines like “I know the assumption / Is that I'm tough / With all my anger / That's fair enough / Even with friends / I have to compete / And try being me / When you walk down the street . . . You may think I'm strong / And I can do no wrong /But I'm vulnerable / So vulnerable / Without you” (“Vulnerable”) the band creates a sense of real ennui. For sure, despite the emotion, the rhyme scheme is a bit predictable, but even with that, the song resonates and the listener feels like the sense of loss is fresh and new.

What the band seems to be doing best with Yes is exploring chaos and songs like “Pandemonium” are lyrically unsettling as a result. The band creates verbal whiplash with the opening lyrics “Is this a riot or are you just pleased to see me? / Why aren't we holding hands and talking sweets? / I love you really, though I know no-one believes me / There's chaos every time we meet” (“Pandemonium”) which works remarkably well for the theme of the song.

Yes should have been a mainstream comeback album in the United States for the Pet Shop Boys with its relevant lyrics, great beats and decent vocals. It is too bad the world was too busy checking out Lady Gaga to notice. Fortunately, for those with a discerning ear, there is still time to pick this underperforming album up.

The best song is “Building A Wall,” the low point is the unmemorable “More Than A Dream.”

For other Pet Shop Boy albums, please read reviews of:
How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? (single)
Discography: The Complete Singles
Was It Worth It? (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 check out my index page!

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

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  1. Hi !

    It’s nice to see an other point of view than my own because we really don’t love the same things about this album you and me, that’s for sure.

    You find “More than a dream” to be the low point of the album when in fact, it’s one of my favorites.

    But to me, the reason why this album wasn’t as successful as it could have been is this one : the singles weren’t chosen well. Like it’s often the case with Pet Shop Boys. It always drives me nuts. I’d like to know who chooses them : an idiot ?! On Fundamental, they chose to release “Numb” as a physical single and “Integral” as a download only single, where I would have done it the other way around !

    And this time again, what were the singles ? Love etc. (nice but sounds too much like Go West !), Did you see me coming (good song but then again, been there, done that, it sounds too much like an extra-track from Very and moreover it was given-away for free in a cd sold with an English newspaper and only released internationally months later : what a fatal mistake !) and Beautiful people, come on, guys !

    A lot of people say that this album sounds too much like Xenomania albums but since I’ve never heard an an album made or produced by Xenomania before, I can’t judge that part but one thing is for sure, this album has tracks that are clearly different from what the PSB do usually : still pop but yet filled with a little bit of melancholy. And what do they do instead, release singles that sounded like everything they had done before.

    I’m not sure if this album would have been a hit otherwise, but I would have released “Pandemonium” “More than a dream” “The way it used to be” or even “Vulnerable” instead. Rumor has it they offered “Pandemonium” to Kylie Minogue and that she rejected the track, but this really could have had a little chance to become a hit.

    I love this album even if I’m not too found of its “Behavior mood”-kind-of-tracks like “Legacy” or “King of Rome”.

    And you can say what you want about Lady Gaga but even though sometimes the content of her albums is full of shitty or very weak tracks but I find that almost everytime she chooses her singles well, not always, but most of the time she does. And especially in 2009 : Bad Romance, Telephone and Alejandro, sorry to say that but PSB’s Yes couldn’t compete with that. But that’s just my opinion, of course. It’s not often the case, but this time, she was at the top of her game but the Pet Shop Boys not as much.

    But still, to me “The way it used to be” is the best track in here, it makes me cry almost every time I hear it, I don’t why, but it has that kind of effect on me.

    1. Glad to give you a contrary opinion!

      Thanks for all the added info!

      Thank you for reading and thanks for the comment!