Pet Shop Boys "Very" (Parlophone, 1993)

Since their first huge success with "West End Girls" in 1985 up until now the Pet Shop Boys have established themselves as the grand duo of pop music. While singer Neil Tennant and keyboarder Chris Lowe provided this genre with some of its most spectacular and most beautiful songs like "It's a sin", "Always on my mind" and "Being boring", they cultivated a unique style and image. Dance beats were confronted with ironic or historical lyrics, their live performances resembled operas, their album artworks and videos always strived for something new and extraordinary.

At a time, when on one side grunge was growing extremely popular, and on the other techno was on its way to the charts, the Pet Shop Boys released a pure pop album, "Very", as usual ignorant of what was expected from them. The singles were accompanied by videos that showed different approaches to a fantasy world, expressing the Pet Shop Boys' refusal of having anything real related to their "Very" work. With the next CD releases they seemed to follow different roads, a latin style on "Bilingual" (1996) or acoustic arrangements on "Release" (2002). But their albums always maintained that familiar Pet Shop Boys touch.

Can you forgive her? A song about a man living in the closet, but his wife obviously knows that he is gay. About the time of the release of "Very" Tennant had his outing, thus directing the Pet Shop Boys in a more openly gay, introspective future. So "Can you forgive her?" can be seen as one of the first gay themed Pet Shop Boys songs (although some of their work before had had a definite homoerotic touch - see the "Domino Dancing" video for example). The song is slow, but has a very hard synthesizer chord that makes it more of a marching song. This sound even makes up for the lack of a hit melody. 8.0

I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing. Stoic beat that becomes a little annoying. Not because of the drumming itself, but a piano playing all the quarter notes. Somewhat more consistent than the single version, because it seems plainer. Actually only the brass like break on the two minute mark is really Pet Shop Boys. The chorus is kind of catchy but lacks of something special. Not bad, but please, they can do better. 6.5

Liberation. Dreamy wall of sound full of flying heads with huge wings. This one could have very well been on "Behaviour", the preceding studio album, that had a calmer, more organic tone. Neil's singing is so soft and sweet and the second chorus has such a wonderful variance in it, that you just might liberate your thoughts from real life. 7.0

A different point of view. Now the album picks up speed... Loaded synthie orgy right from the beginning, a chance to take breath in the verse, and in the chorus Neil's charismatic voice adds to the electronic orchestra. In spite of all the rush in rhyhtm and sound the song appears rather dreamy, while the lyrics are not. They are more about arguments in a relationship, and these arguments being raised by a very loud orchestra hit. 7.5

Dreaming of the Queen. It is funny, but on this album the fast songs seem to appear a little slower and the ballads seem faster than they really are. The generous arrangements and production style seem to have that effect. Anyway, this is one of the ballads, but you can't really dance slowly to it. Lovely sad chorus and a nice piano break in a song about Aids and the break-up of Lady Di's marriage. 8.0

Yesterday, when I was mad. Starts innocent, but then gets really pumped up with hard and fast dance beats. Neil sounds like a circus director in the verses, but the chorus has a great euphoric hookline. The album version is more consistent than the single, which relied to heavily on the Jam & Spoon riff. A driving masterwork that shows the Pet Shop Boys from their wild side. 9.0

The Theatre. Theatrical, pompous, playful. Lyrics about the differences between a dream world and reality. Again a gorgeous composition and a fast beat that spins the ballad on a higher level. Equipped with choir and orchestra, the very opposite of minimalism and sooo Pet Shop Boys. Probably too much candy for some people, but I like it. Very much. 9.5

One and one make five. They sometimes try to do a little house music here and there and for my liking the results are mostly mediocre at best. These tracks just do not seem to get the usual song writing treatment and end up rather bland. But with the programming on this album even this house approach ends up in a pop fairy tale that would work in a disco as well. Still a little disappointing. 5.5

To speak is a sin. Back into calmer waters, and this one is the only real ballad on the album. It is one of the first songs they wrote and took ten years to get released on an album. It has a saxophone sample, a bar piano and a laid back attitude. While the preceding song was a little low on song writing, this one makes more than up for it. The chorus alone is a masterpiece. Silky singing wistfully accompanied by cautious instrumentation. A big small song. 9.0

Young Offender. This song is about the generation gap. Video game sounds and a 303-like bass play to a driving rhythm. Not to get too cheerful some melancholic strings are added. One guitar-like sound though is very high and a bit annoying. One continuous theme throughout the song that gets some variation by Neil's singing. All in all a little monotonous and too loaded with strings to be a nightlife club track. 7.0

One in a million. Now they really want to cheer us up, don't they? Unfortunately everything is a bit too high: the mood, Neil's voice, the strings, the beat. Therefore it ends up quite piercing. The break gives some relief, but in the end this one is too superficial to reach me. It is more like a birthday serenade. 6.0

Go West. Pompous cover version in the tradition of "Always on my mind" and "Where the streets have no name/ I can't take my eyes off of you". Almost shameless how the Pet Shop Boys divest the Village People of their cowboy and cop costumes and put them into some futuristic blue and yellow uniforms, to let them march around the Red Square. A hymn that brought the chorus into European football arenas and provided the Pet Shop Boys with their last mega hit so far. 9.0

Postscript. Hidden track that is sung by Chris, which is a treat you don't get every day. The song itself is a harmless little private ballad. On a funny note some people alleged the Boys for putting in a secret message to encourage the use of Ecstasy. Unrated

[Artwork] The first time not only the booklet, but also the CD case was included in the artwork. Instead of the usual plain jewel case they delivered an orange plastic packaging with raised dots (note that only the first edition was manufactured with that case; also the remastered edition from 2001 did not have it). As an alternative the limited edition "Very Relentless" appeared in a bubble-plastic sleeve. On top of that the booklet shows Neil and Chris in their funny uniforms for their first two "Very" videos. Not only does the artwork illustrate a milestone in CD packaging history, but it also reflects the music on the album perfectly. 10.0

Conclusion They wanted to do a mega dance-pop album and this is what they delivered, although I would put the emphasis on pop. This is the definition of pop. With slower, faster and mid-tempo pieces, the album still has a very consistent tone and therefore appears as one unit (this is where their discography's so far last entry "Fundamental" failed, which had a similar approach). It surely is not revolutionary, but it presents an individual sound that the Pet Shop Boys have all the rights to call their own. Overall Rating: 7.85

May 2007