[Jefito’s Note: This week’s installment of our three-part look at Pet Shop Boys is, like Part One, brought to you courtesy of the wit and wisdom of John from Lost in the ’80s, one of my very favorite blogs. It should be one of your favorites, too. It is, right? Right? Oh, I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. –J]

Pet Shop Boys entered the Nineties facing a (comparatively) flop album amid a changing, grunge-obsessed musical landscape with little time for synthpop — it was time to regroup. But first, the Boys spent time writing and producing an album for Liza Minelli, then released a singles compilation…

Discography (1991)
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Pet Shop Boys - The Pet Shop Boys: Discography - The Complete Singles Collection

Now, Idiot’s Guides traditionally don’t count compilations, but this one has to be mentioned because it features many single mixes and radio versions of PSB hits that were previously promo-only or never released on CD prior. It also featured two new songs, one of which, “Was It Worth It” (download), halfway answers the “Are they or aren’t they” question that dogged the duo throughout the Eighties. “Was It Worth It” was noteworthy in that it was pretty much Neil’s coming out song — Chris has yet to confirm or deny his sexuality one way or the other.

But c’mon. Really now.

Very (1993)
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Pet Shop Boys - Very

A couple years off produced what may be the most quintessential Pet Shop Boys album, Very (as in “Very Pet Shop Boys”).

Very took all the elements in evidence on previous releases — from the orchestral ballads of Behavior back to the earliest Hi-NRG dance leanings of Please — and blended them to create the Boys’ masterpiece. America shrugged, but the rest of the world paid attention (and actually, that isn’t entirely fair — Very eventually went gold in the U.S., the last PSB album to do so).

The album’s spirit is a complete u-turn from the dour Behavior, with songs like the Sixties/synthpop mash “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing” (download)setting a celebratory tone. There’s even a remake of the Village People’s “Go West” that attempts to out-camp the original. The Boys also take a humorous swipe at their many critics with “Yesterday, When I Was Mad” (download), inspired by actual quotes spoken to the duo backstage:

“You have a certain quality which really is unique,
Expression with such irony, although your voice is weak,
It really doesn’t matter, ‘cuz the music is so loud,
Of course, it’s all on tape, but no one will find out.

If you want to sample one “real,” non-compilation Pet Shop Boys album, Very is the one.

Disco 2 (1994)
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Pet Shop Boys - Disco 2

After reclaiming their mainstream audience, the duo decided to go back to their deep club roots with another remix compilation, this one even more beat-oriented and less melodic than their last. Probably the most essential thing to be found here is a re-imagining of “Paninaro” from the previous Disco EP, now dubbed “Paninaro 95″ (download). Sadly, Disco 2 doesn’t include the far superior single version of the track. Skip this, unless you’re really hardcore.

Alternative (1995)
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Pet Shop Boys - Alternative

Another compilation? Yes, but this is a little different. Alternative is a 2-CD set compiling every Pet Shop Boys b-side up to this point, and since PSB b-sides tend to be pretty damn good, it’s a surprisingly listenable set. Is “Miserablism” (download) really about Morrissey, calling his mope stance a pose? Is “Shameless” (download) just as crass and over the top production-wise as its title suggests? Judge for yourself.

Bilingual (1996)
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Sensing their acceptance as an international pop band, PSB played upon it with Bilingual.

Propulsive Brazilian drums drive the smirking “Single” (download) (which, thankfully, was actually issued as a single), and Latin-tinged flourishes pop up throughout the album. A highlight is “The Survivors” (download), which is pretty frank in dealing with the fallout of AIDS, yet remains optimistic. When looking over the entire PSB catalog, Bilingual [note: It actually seems to be out of print in the U.S. –J] gets a bit lost in the shuffle, but that doesn’t make it a bad album by any means.

Two parts down, one to go:next week we wrap things up as the Boys go clubbing, discover acoustic guitars(!) and release yet another 17 or so compilations (well, close).

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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