Tidal Catalog #30: Pet Shop Boys

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for great formatting, you know?

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before

Entrance Point: Pet Shop Boys are now one of my favorite groups of all time but when I did this catalog a few years ago, I wouldn’t have said that. I had always liked their 80’s output but stopped listening after Bilingual in 1996. But it wasn’t because I didn’t like that disc but rather that my tastes changed pretty drastically after that point and they while they were moving more to dance pop, I was moving more to metal at the time. So the marriage wasn’t there. But I was very familiar with all the records through that one and nothing after.

Included: Alternative; a compilation of B-sides. Format; a second compilation of B-sides. Disco 1-4; all remix records. Battleship Potemkin; a soundtrack to the silent film

Not Included: Closer to Heaven; the soundtrack to their first musical. All the music is theirs but it’s performed by the cast and therefore I chose not to include it. I also ranked based on the original releases, not the “further listening” albums, so none of the “further listening” expanded editions are listed here.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Fundamental (10)

I was amazed upon hearing this album for the first time during this trek that it was virtually perfect. I like to (wrongfully) think that I would have been in tune with an album so good and had heard it already but of course that’s not the case. But I truly didn’t think I’d encounter a perfect Pet Shop Boys record this late in their career (2006) but here we are. Musically, Fundamental kind of encapsulates everything that’s great about these guys. Upbeat, danceable synth-pop tunes (“The Sodom and Gomorrah Show,” “Mimimal” “I’m with Stupid”) as well as really well written dark wave ballads like “I Made My Excuses and Left” and “Luna Park.” It also includes an odd pairing with Diane Warren, called “Numb” which was actually written by her for Aerosmith and turned down. So the next natural place for that song to go would be the Pet Shop Boys, right? But this orchestral ballad with Chris Lowe’s keys on it really does work nicely for them. The weirdest thing about me giving this record a full 10 though is that if I want to listen to the Pet Shop Boys, this isn’t the album I’m going back to. I’m going back to their 80s albums instead. It’s a rare instance in this trek where the best album isn’t necessarily the one I listen to the most.

  • The Most Incredible Thing… (9.5)

Boy, I was not looking forward to listening to this just by the description alone – a score for a ballet. I want nothing to do with ballets and very little to do with scores unless they are written by Trent Reznor. And yet, here we are again with this record being second overall in my list of Pet Shop Boys albums. This record is, as the title describes, “The Most Incredible Thing.” It’s snyth pop, it’s dance music, it’s more traditional ballet music, it’s classical and most importantly for this purpose, super well written and catchy as well. I read about all the mixed reactions to this album and those that didn’t like it mainly say it’s because it’s not paint-by-numbers Pet Shop Boys. And that’s what makes it great. Although it’s 99% instrumental, it’s got both PSB touches throughout the disk and moments that really sound nothing like them at all. It’s not that I have a whole lot to say about this album in the end and if I’m not going to back to Fundamental, I’m not pulling this out for a fun listen either but it’s a beautiful twist on the PSB style and I wanted to call it out in case you judged a book by its cover, like I did.

  • Please (9.5)

Although there are two albums higher on my list, Please is the album I will go back to all the time when I want to listen to something other than the greatest hits – even though their debut had four major hits on it. For my money, their best single is still and I’m assuming always will be, their first, “West End Girls,” which is one of the top songs of the 80s. But I love “Suburbia” as well. The only complaint is that it’s a little top heavy with the singles being tracks 2-5 but this album showcases everything that’s great about PSB. Grand dance-pop rhythms, hooks for days and superb musicianship throughout. And the great non-single “Tonight is Forever” was actually covered and released in 1989 by Liza Minnelli of all people.

  • Very (9.5)
  • Actually (8.5)
  • Behavior (8.5)
  • Inner Sanctum (8.5)
  • Agenda (8.5)
  • Alternative (8)
  • Disco (8)
  • Bilingual (7.5)

Although not the greatest PSB record, I’ve always had a bit of an affinity for this one. Unfortunately, while there were some great songs on the record and all of them were released as singles, Bilingual is really the album that kind of hammered home the point that in the US at least, the Pet Shop Boys were no longer a Hot 100 band. The previous album (Very) had some great songs on them in a typical Pet Shop Boys style and they didn’t chart either but this album came out in 1996 and was a combo of dance-pop and latin rhythms. I don’t recall a huge market for what they were selling at that time. So I get it. But up until this point, this was the most unique studio record in their catalog. The Latin flair was the difference. It was still a dance/electro-pop record but with a lot of Latin rhythms and brass instrumentation. This came out while I was still in college and I totally cherry picked what I listened to – so going into this one, I thought it was going to be better than it was. Songs like “Se a Vida e (That’s the Way Life Is)” and “A Red Letter Day” are wonderful tracks, with some great hooks. But clunkers like the pure club song, “Saturday Night Forever” just don’t fit with the record and sound a little uninspired from these guys. It also didn’t help matters that the video for “Se a Vida e” was fucking terrible (as were many from this era). But I will still hold those singles up against any in their catalog even if this is kind of a forgotten album.

  • Elysium (7.5)
  • Yes (7.5)
  • Hotspot (7)

The remix of this catalog came at just the right time as PSB just released a new album called Hotspot, so might as well talk about it here, right? Well, the past few full length records haven’t been up to the normal standards and a little too dancy for my tastes, I was hoping for a bit of a return to form. The 4-track Agenda ep last year was a bit odd lyrically but took me back to the 80s. Then, despite being the third single from this record, the first track I heard was “Monkey Business” which also harkens back to a few decades ago. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Hotspot is a decent record but not great, missing the mark in a few spots but hitting it spot on in others. The ballad, “You Are the One” is fantastic but it’s followed up with a club track called “Happy People” that seems to be a bit simple for this legendary group. And album closer “Wedding in Berlin,” despite the positive message of accepting gay marriage, is one of my least favorite songs in their catalog, something that feels like it should have been released as a B-side instead of put on a full album. But overall, it’s smack dab in the middle here because it’s very much a PSB record and likely exactly what we can expect moving forward.

  • Release (7)
  • Introspective (7)
  • Format (7)
  • Electric (6.5)
  • Pandemonium (6.5)
  • Battleship Potemkin (6.5)
  • Disco 4 (6)
  • Disco 3 (6)
  • Concrete (6)
  • Super (6)
  • Nightlife (5.5)
  • Disco 2 (3.5)

Summary: 26 albums, average 7.4

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