Pet Shop Boys

There are lots of opportunities, if you know when to take them. The Pet Shop Boys’ long-overdue ‘outstanding contribution to music’ nod at this year’s Brits, coupled with vicarious chart success courtesy of Girls Aloud single ‘The Loving Kind’, has seen their stock in the ascendancy after a decade of relative commercial failure. In such a context, the chance to collaborate with über-producers Xenomania in a bid to rediscover their pop mojo was one simply too good to pass up. It could have come across as desperate – a past-their-prime act latching onto the hit-making team du jour in a last-ditch attempt to appear relevant again. Thankfully Yes, the fruits of that collaboration, is an album which succeeds on their own terms, a brash, uplifting pop record which effortlessly outclasses the majority of their pop contemporaries.

If recent Pet Shop Boys albums have had their moments, they’ve also been fatally hampered by a lack of quality control. Yet there’s barely an ounce of flab on on these 11 tracks, with the opening six songs in particular all sounding like singles in waiting. ‘Love, Etc’ grows in stature with each listen, a typically wry state-of-the-nation commentary on the excesses of celebrity culture, with a robustly meaty call-and-response chorus. ‘All Around The World’ audaciously interpolates the refrain from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and marries it to one of the duo’s most head-rushingly infectious melodies. Johnny Marr’s trademark guitar jangle at the start of ‘Did You See Me Coming?’ ushers in a blissfully guileless slice of euphoric disco reminiscent of ‘Was It Worth It?’. It’s tempting to describe this and the insanely catchy Kylie cast-off ‘Pandemonium’ as Pet Shop Boys by numbers, but oh, what numbers those are.

The two standout tracks on the album demonstrate the Pet Shop Boys often overlooked gift for sonic expansiveness. ‘King of Rome’ is a classic Pet Shop Boys ballad in the mould of ‘To Face The Truth’ and ‘Liberation’, Neil forlornly surveying the shattered ruins of a love affair against a backdrop of lush, pathos-soaked synths. ‘The Way It Used To Be’ – the best of the three Xenomania collaborations – is quite simply sublime, a minimalist disco throb building up into a rousing ‘I Will Survive’-style coda sung by guest vocalist Carla Marie Williams. It serves as a menacingly brooding counterpoint to the album’s otherwise ubiquitous positivity.

There are only a couple of duff notes: ‘Building a Wall’ collapses under the weight of its own cerebral posturing, the Cold War imagery and frankly baffling political allegories failing to disguise the distinct whiff of filler. And album closer ‘Legacy’ ruins its air of stately synth elegance towards the end with an egregiously clunky lyric about a Carphone Warehouse boy who “wants to upgrade the phone you own”; it’s possibly the most ill-advised mobile phone reference in a pop song since Shed Seven recorded that Link jingle.

For anyone who regards their first (and arguably definitive) singles compilation Discography as a glittering high watermark in modern pop, who views Neil Tennant as maybe Morrissey’s only serious rival to the mantle of England’s greatest living pop eccentric, or who has ever found themselves lost in stupefying reverie to ‘West End Girls’, ‘Suburbia’, ‘Being Boring’ et al, Yes will be greeted as a triumphant return to form, comfortably their best collection of songs since 1993’s near-faultless Very. For those who’ve remained immune to their charms up until now, well, this probably won’t be the album to convert you. It’s quintessential Pet Shop Boys: and from where I’m standing that’s a pretty fabulous place to be.

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