[Jefito’s Note: And so concludes our three-part look at Pet Shop Boys, brought to you and me by the good graces of John from Lost in the ’80s. Pet Shop Boys has always been an act I never managed to take the time to examine closely, so for me, this series has been educational and entertaining. Hope you’ve enjoyed it too. Meet me back here next week for The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Church, brought to you by yet another John! –J]

Nightlife (1999)
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I thought of plenty of cute ways to get to this without just saying, but nothing works like bluntness — Nightlife is Pet Shop Boys’ flat-out gayest album.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The title alone tells you all you need to know — it’s all about the nightlife, how they love to boogie on the disco ’round, and the resulting addictions/problems that come from overdoing it. Big dance hit “New York City Boy” (download) covers the euphoric portion of the life, while “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk” (download) covers the sad. Throw in a duet with Kylie Minogue and a song that later became the focus of a full-fledged West End (yes) musical, and you have a CD that practically oozes rainbow-colored blood.

It’s also quite fantastic.

But it was on the Nightlife tour that we saw where the Boys were headed next. One portion of the set had Neil sitting on the stage with an acoustic guitar(!), strumming solo and singing, putting the focus on the melodies and structure rather than the beat and production. And that leads us to:

Release (2002)
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Pet Shop Boys - Release

:the Boys album that most divides fans into “Loves Its” and “Hates Its.” Release is awash with acoustic guitars, real(istic?) drums, and a much less nasal Neil. How would one ever imagine Neil & Chris doing a take on Oasis (or the Beatles, if you prefer) like they do on “I Get Along” (download)?

It was all a bit much for PSB purists, and by this time, the general public who might have glommed on to this new sound were long gone. But expertly crafted pop like “Here” (download) should have won them new fans, rather than a new deal with Sanctuary Records, the label where ’80s artists go to die.

My favorite PSB album. Yup, I said it.

Disco 3 (2003)
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Pet Shop Boys - Disco 3

Been awhile since we’ve seen one of these, eh?

The Disco EP pattern returns, but with a twist — only four of the songs here are reworks of existing tracks, while the rest are brand new. Judging from the new stuff, the Boys were still stinging a bit from the chilly reception of Release, since the new songs are a big step back to the traditional PSB club/dance sound. Not a bad thing, especially when you get things like “Somebody Else’s Business” (download), a killer single that wasn’t, and “Sexy Northerner” (download), a rescued b-side that could anchor a full album on its own. A must-have.

PopArt (2003)
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Here it is — yet another compilation, this one a career-spanning 2-CD set that brings together all 33 PSB singles, along with two new tracks.

Too bad you can’t buy it here.

Finding the Boys adrift without an American record deal at the time, PopArt was never released in the States, but through a quirky twist, the accompanying DVD (featuring all of the Boys’ videos) was. I’ll never figure out record company politics, either.

The new tracks are old school Pet Shop Boys By Numbers, as “Flamboyant” (download) indicates. Purists or newbies only.

The Battleship Potemkin (2005)
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Look, I’ll make this easy — new soundtrack to a 1925 silent Russian film, not even credited as a Pet Shop Boys release, but rather to “Tennant/Lowe.” That’s what I thought.

Moving on.

Fundamental (2006)
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You know when artists who have been around for years and years get to that point whenever they release a new album that all the reviews tend to read, “A return to form:their best work in years,” et al? I think the Boys have reached that point, because here we go.

Fundamental is the Boys’ best work since, well, Release. However, since I’m in the minority with that album, I imagine the reviews will laud this as their best work since the ’80s. It isn’t really, but I think the presence of kitchen-sink producer Trevor Horn will fool casual fans into thinking so.

It isn’t bad by any stretch, but what does it mean when one of the strongest songs on the album, “Numb” (download), was written by friggin’ Diane Warren?

Lyrically, Fundamental seems to be preoccupied with the war in Iraq (at least on the surface), although Neil’s wit and probing intelligence keep the sloganeering and sneering to a minimum (not counting the heavy handed and ill-advised first single, “I’m With Stupid”). Another high point comes when the duo veers away from the politics of war and back to politics of a sexual nature with “The Sodom & Gomorrah Show” (download).

A return to form? Sure, if you were happy with the same ol’.

Fundamental is released in the U.S. June 27th, on yet another new label for the Boys — this time Rhino, of all places. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of push this gets and what’s next for the duo, now in its 21st year. As someone said, it’s fabulous they’re still around today — they’ve both made such a little go a very long way.

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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