Yes, they really have made a very little go a very long way
The Pet Shop Boys are certainly a seminal group in dance music; they are a band whose album Bilingual turned into the soundtrack of 1996 for me and they’ve always been a band with haunting, intelligent lyrics. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to review their fourth "Disco" album: these albums are collections of remixes done by the Boys; the first, second, and third ones seemed more focused on remixing their own studio work while the fourth has moved into the territory of Pet Shop Boys remixes for other artists. That, perhaps, in all fairness, was the first and largest problem I found with this record. While the other Disco collections have a unified feel, this one doesn’t really. In this age of DJ mix albums and expansive soundsets from likes of Sasha and BT, you’d think the Pet Shop Boys - who have contributed truly a hell of a lot to dance music over the years - would be able to pull off an artists’ mix album better than they have, but no: apparently not.
Also to be fair, dance music has changed in sound and tenor since the early to mid 1990s when the Pet Shop Boys released what I consider to be some of their better work. Nowadays, dance music is more harsh, more beat-driven, and less melodic. For the Hacker and Miss Kitten that works. For Le Tigre remixes, that works. For Pet Shop Boys, not so much. Aside from the ability of their lyrics to adeptly comment on society, one of the hallmarks of the Pet Shop Boys has always been their sense of melody and ability to combine dance-driven, synth-based, pop with elaborate vocals and lush orchestration. Songs such as Left to My Own Devices, Before, and Being Boring are masterpieces of harmony and symphonic application in dance-pop. Their remix of I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing I listened to over and over again to detect just how the Boys arranged some of the phrases. Now, on Disco 4, we have Pet Shop Boys work that really just sounds like everyone else currently remixing pop for the club.
Read My Mind by The Killers opens the album, and really, that’s not a very good introduction if you’re out to impress. The Killers are possibly the most over-hyped band of this generation - with no offense to either The Strokes or The White Stripes. The Boys’ remix of Read My Mind is not a challenged reworking of this song at all: it’s a very clear-cut effort to make it work on the dance floor and sound trendy, which means it will sound even worse in a year or two when current trends have worn themselves out than it does right now. The remix of David Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy is much better, but that seems more to the credit of Bowie’s talents than the Pet Shop Boys. Rammstein’s Mein Teil is simply a horrid mess of a remix - and Rammstein is one of my favourite bands, too. What the Pet Shop Boys somehow have missed here is that the greatness of this song, like most of Rammstein’s work, it is a loud, thundering affair with a very progressive and engaging melody. But they’ve thrown all that away! There is so so so much one could do with this song - in place of the guitars on the original track, pipe organ, distorted synths, anything could have been added to make it shine and yet retain the feeling Rammstein had at onset. Why bother paying for a Pet Shop Boys remix at all? Any kid with Logic or ProTools on his laptop and a couple Native Instruments softsynths could have churned this out with the right master tracks to do so!
Thankfully, some songs do fare much better. Madonna’s Sorry - one of her best recent singles - sounds very good indeed but in fact it doesn’t sound a whole lot different from her studio original or other remixes of it. Even more than the Bowie song, the good parts of this one seem to be Madonna’s own doing. It doesn’t have to be this way: Think of BT’s song Blue Skies featuring Tori Amos on vocals and the wealth of great remixes that single produced or think of Gloria Estafan’s 12” remix for I’m not Giving You Up and you can hear exactly what a good remix can do with a haunting song and female vocals - and how different a remix can sound from the original. The Pet Shop Boys own reworking of their version of Somewhere from West Side Story is another classic example. Yoko Ono’s Walking on Thin Ice is a really nice job overall and should introduce Ono’s actual music to kids who only know her as the world’s most unpopular widow aside from Courtney Love. The two songs by the Boys themselves - I’m With Stupid and Integral also come off decently but overall, these remixes are just lackluster.
Will this album please its listeners, though? I have to say, I suppose it will: apparently, Madonna and her fans are pleased enough with the Sorry remix and you have to guess the other artists here are pleased with what the Boys have done for them, also. It’s fine of course too that they have taken a trajectory away from what they did in the 80s and 90s, but the fact they can produce very fine dance music and pioneered this genre makes it even more apparent when they don’t live up to their talents. I’m not, mind you, the sort of music critic who delights in being a snob towards pop music while saying good things only about very obscure and noise-driven indie music such as On The Might of Princes. There’s lots of well-crafted pop I enjoy, and if Bilingual or Very had crossed my path for review they’d both probably get five stars. I just can’t believe that this album isn’t better than it is. The Pet Shop Boys and Madonna? C’mon, they could have easily hired an orchestra, brought in guest artists, or whatever, and done all manner of creative stuff with Sorry ... maybe next time?
Release date: 08/10/2007 (0) comments - discuss in the forum
Artist website: www.petshopboys.co.uk