Monday, March 23, 2009

Pet Shop Boys - Yes (Pt I)

Three guys who've written or published close to thirty million words on the Pet Shop Boys join forces to discuss the Boys' new album Yes. Scott Woods posted his first envoy to Thomas Inskeep and yours truly. Read all week for continuing developments.

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Alfred, Thomas -

What do you say we kick this off? I want to hear both of your thoughts on *Yes*, the new Pet Shop Boys album. Thomas mentioned before that he obtained a copy of the "bonus" edition which I hadn't heard about when he mentioned it but which I've since learned through the wonder of Wikipedia to be an extra disc of remixes, plus an additional track with guest vocalist -- wait for it -- Phil Oakey! I'll try and track those extras down eventually, and am happy to discuss any of it here with you guys, but at least for my first couple of entries I'll be sticking to the main disc.

I've listened to *Yes* around six times thus far, though some listens have been much more focused than others. I've listened to it in the car, at work, in public transit on my iPod, and a couple times this morning while cleaning the house. I intend to listen to it more as I hear your own impressions, but I gotta say, my initial verdict is lukewarm bordering on why-do-I-still-bother? apathy. In fact, it's the same question -- why bother? -- I asked myself last time around, with 2005's *Fundamental*, and I'm starting to wonder if I'm not at this point merely going through the motions of being a Pet Shop Boys fan in the same way that it sounds to me like they're going through the motions of being Pet Shop Boys? I mean, I'm such a fanboy of these guys that I give them way more leeway than I've ever given any other pop artist, most of whom (from Bowie to Costello to god knows who else) I've felt absolutely no qualms about dropping like a hot potato once their music started to blow (which probably makes me the kind of critic-fan most artists would -- not unfairly -- consider a total cretin). I've hung on to my PSB fanhood for a couple reasons: 1) I just think Neil and Chris really are among the coolest people on the planet; I mean, I really like *them*, which is to say I like their personas as members of the Pet Shop Boys, and Neil Tennant always gives an interesting interview; and 2) Even when their albums have dropped in quality (and I don't think any album they've made in the last 15 years has come at all close to matching the heights of *Very*, *Please*, etc.), there have usually been a few moments worth savouring, and a classic Pet Shop Boy-sounding single or two. (Never mind that in actuality it's been *21 years* -- 21 years! ponder that figure -- since they scored a Top 40 single in *Billboard*.) Even *Fundamental* had the loopy spelling-bee disco track, "Minimal," which I liked a fair bit despite not hearing much of anything else on the album. This time around, I'm not convinced that any of these songs are going to stick with me very long.

I know I'm being a bit harsh. There are some moments I think are pretty good here. The album commences with laudable (and audible) energy: first single "Love Etc." (which sounds to me like one of their singles in the "Can You Forgive Her" mold, though I'm vague as to why I'm drawing that connection) followed by "All Over the World," which nicely turns a Tchaikovsky riff into a slow-throb disco and contains one of those classic PSB lyrics that could be about PSB and about pop music itself: "It's sincere and subjective/Superficial and true." If any song will stick with me over the long haul, I suspect that may be the one. The rest of the tracks, at this point, veer from ho-hum to pretty good to hey-that's-not-so-bad to WTF. Well, the WTF moment is "Beautiful People," which might just be the weakest song I've heard by them, with music I'd describe as folky miserablism, and banal lyrical sentiments that *might've* seemed believable 25 years ago (am I projecting too much here? do either of you believe Neil Tennant feels like such a detached, downtrodden soul in 2009?).

Oh wait, there's a nice ballad as well, King of Rome," which I prefer lless for its rather blasé beat than for Neil's lovely vocal (enhanced, it must be noted, by some delightful reverb or chorus effects). In fact, "blasé beats" is maybe what gets at my problem with the guys over the last couple albums. Neil sounds good (Neil always sounds good; Neil is Neil). Their music, however, seems to become more anonymous-sounding with each successive album. There's something pedestrian and tired about so much of it. (Also, one unfortunate comment about Neil: have you guys noticed that he hardly ever *raps* anymore? That was always one of my favourite modes of his: the bored rapper. I don't think there's a single rap on the album.)

Hate to start off on such a downer note, but those are some early thoughts. I hope one of you guys can tell me what I'm missing here. I'll have more to come, but you guys are up.

Hit me!

smw

1 comment:

James said...

Completely agree with your review.

The first two tracks are brilliant but after that (with the possible exception of 'Pandemonium'), there are no memorable tracks.

I tell a lie, there is one memorable track - "Building a Wall". But only because it's so bum-clenchingly terrible.

A lot of it seems somehow discordant, empty and ugly sounding. Case in point - the last track "Legacy". Can't see that sticking in my head.

Overall, very disappointed. I enjoyed "Fundamental" but "Yes" probably joins "Bilingual" at the bottom of my pile of PSB albums.