Pet Shop Boys

EMI/Manhattan Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Let’s get to the bottom of the friendly rivalry between Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys, shall we?  As the two biggest British synth-pop duos, they have been running neck and neck for over twenty years.  After Erasure’s Chorus became a hit both critically and commercially, Pet Shop Boys countered with the equally-as-brilliant Very.  The fact of the matter is, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe weren’t so subtle in playing copycats.  Not only did they print the album cover in the same color scheme as Chorus, but they also snagged one of Erasure’s former producers, Stephen Hague.  Mind you, it is a rare occurrence when it happens, but in 1993, Erasure and Pet Shop Boys’ paths would cross and from that point on it would be “game on.”

I’ve been a fan of both acts ever since they first came onto the music scene.  Over time, I have found that Erasure has better live stage shows and Pet Shop Boys tend to have better albums, especially when it comes to their lavish 3-D album covers and packaging.  The one Pet Shop Boys album that seemed to have it all is Very.  The first two songs, “Can You Forgive Her” and “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing” make a strong impression right from the start, so it was no wonder they would become hit singles. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Cheesy animated videos aside, Very is the Pet Shop Boys album that people tend to remember the most.  It is certainly a favorite among the Brits.  There are three songs in particular that pay homage to their British homeland.  First off, “Liberation” is an elegant and mature ballad that is in the same vein as material found on their Behavior album from 1990.  Then there is “Dreaming Of The Queen,” which makes some empathetic references to the late Princess Diana and could have easily played over the end credits of the recent Stephen Frears film.  Replete with string, horns and bells, it is partnered up with “The Theatre,” another lushly orchestrated track with a sweeping, epic feel.

Smack dab in the middle of all the grand, romantic pieces comes a real stunner in the form of “Yesterday, When I Was Mad,” which is perhaps the most experimental track the Pet Shop Boys have ever put together.  Neil Tennant outdoes himself in performing the rap section, making you almost forget about his earlier attempt on “West End Girls.”  Another great moment comes on “To Speak Is A Sin.”  All Pet Shop Boys albums have a melancholy, ultra-personal slow song, and this one is certainly among the most beautiful and moving. 

There are a few missteps to be found on Very, which is unfortunate.  On the frenetic “A Different Point Of View” there is far too much going on, to the point of distraction.  Break-beat techno may have been popular in the early nineties, but on this album, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  Ditto for “One And One Make Five,” a track that seems to be running in place, but ends up going nowhere.  “Young Offender” also takes some getting used to, since its aggressive presence comes as somewhat jarring to the listener and contains what sounds like a pinball machine gone berserk.     

On the positive and fun side, there is a pair of gay anthems to be found on Very, to commemorate Neil Tennant’s decision to finally come out of the closet.  The rave dance track “One In A Million” has a bold tone of declaration in its lyrics and “Go West” finds tribal beat-masters Brothers In Rhythm doing their best Village People imitation.  Ending the album on a celebratory note is most fitting and well-deserved because the Pet Shop Boys were able to achieve near perfection with Very.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI/Manhattan Records, and is used for informational purposes only.