Pet Shop Boys album review by Ryan Beardsley.
I do love a ‘Singles’ collection, it’s like a musical autobiography and for a group as storied and influential as the Pet Shop Boys, what a story it is, especially as it’s one that started in an era when singles and chart positions were still significant. So let’s dive into Smash, a mammoth three-disc collection of every single they’ve ever released.
Disc one showcases 1986-91 when Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe burst onto the pop scene, looking and sounding like no one before them and scored hit after hit. West End Girls still sounds as daring and dangerous as it ever did, Opportunities’ satirical wit is as relevant today as it was at the height of the yuppie era and Suburbia is still as achingly catchy and ripe for mass sing along in 2023 as it was nearly 40 years ago.
When you think things can’t get any better, It’s A Sin, What Have I Done To Deserve This, Rent, Always On My Mind and Heart all hit the spot. It’s crazy to look at hit after hit and see they were released in this order, including 3 no1s from the beloved Actually, begs the question of whether PSBs had any peers at this stage in their career?
Was It Worth It ends disc one and it’s interesting to note the change of tone as the PSBs enter the nineties, much more pure unabashed pop, more accessible and the chart positions continued to reflect this.
Nowhere is this more abundant as we move onto Disc two, Go West, one of their many adored covers, see the group descend a little into novelty for the first time. Like so many artists who began in the 80s, they seemed to struggle to find their place during the Britpop era similarly to contemporaries like Morrissey, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure etc.
With that said, there’s still fun to be had in this era with several top 10 hits, notably my personal favourite Se A Vida E a highlight, breezy, fun little ditty that just makes you feel like you’re on the beach without a care in the world.
Disc two breaches the new millennium and ends with songs from PopArt, a 2002 Best of that allowed them to reclaim their identity and show out to a new set of fans now that the laddy Oasis days were well and truly gone. Essentially they could now be cool again; Miracles was vintage PSB, cool synths, a catchy chorus and funky beats encapsulate their time around early noughties era of creating music that felt right at home in Ibiza, rather than the shady side streets of Soho.
Disc three spans the last 20 years and I’d say it’s more for the die hards and less for casual fans but their are some real gems to be found here and there.We start with singles from 2006’s return to form Fundamental, seeing a return to political and social commentary that was once Neil Tennant’s calling card. In the shape of I’m With Stupid, Minimal and Numb, they touch upon the war on terror, the Blair years, and George W Bush.
As we move into the more recent past, the band release tracks that are more reflective, and it’s clear Tennant and Lowe are at peace with their legacy. 2013’s Electric has some fantastic dance pop, Vocal and Love Is A Bourgeois Concept showing there was still fire in the belly after 30 years of making music.
All in all it’s an incredible legacy, even as a fan I had underestimated the staying power, modernism and sheer energy of the Pet Shop Boys back catalogue, their songs have truly aged like fine wine. They defined a generation, an entire culture for countless people, and with this new collection it’s likely a new generation might just be doing some Domino Dancing before too long.
You can purchase ‘Smash’ here