On the eve of a new Pet Shop Boys album I thought it would be nice to spend a couple of weeks taking a closer look at their recent singles, so that’s what we’ll do. The first single from their last album Elysium was Winner. It was an odd choice, seemingly chosen because of the Olympics, but barely played once during the entire event.
As a track it’s good, but it’s probably fair to say that it isn’t great. Inspired, apparently, not by the Olympics, but by the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s very patriotic and flamboyant with a small f, but it isn’t entirely up to the lyrical standards with which we’re normally spoilt.
But any shortcomings of the a-side are more than made up for by the three bonus tracks. First up is A certain “Je ne sais quoi”, which is entirely up to the standard we’ve come to expect from Pet Shop Boys. It would have been good enough to go on the album, and probably would have fitted better than Winner, but let’s leave the artistic decisions to the experts.
Next up is The way through the woods, which Neil and Chris cleverly co-wrote with Rudyard Kipling. If you didn’t know this, as I didn’t at first, then you probably thought this track was extremely odd and out-of-place, which I don’t think was the intention. Armed with the knowledge, however, listening to this piece is a really interesting experience. Writing music to poetry isn’t something you come across very often, and I’ll raise my hat to Pet Shop Boys for this really rather good track. When the drums turn up towards the end and it gradually disappears, you realise there was something particularly special about it, and I’m envious of the Japanese fans, who got a shorter version tacked onto the end of the album.
It’s a trend which continues, as the final b-side is a cover of I started a joke by The Bee Gees. Pet Shop Boys‘ take on it is exceptionally good, another in a very long line of great cover versions. It’s got a lot of shades of Hit and Miss about it, but is none the worse for that, and it’s a very good song, which ends the CD single in style.
The remix package is rather less special. Producer Andrew Dawson‘s first take is a pleasant but slightly pointless dance version of the lead track, but the two that follow it, versions by John Dahlback and Niki & The Dove are lacklustre in the extreme.
This second package’s saving grace is the final track, the chilled out Extended HappySad Remix, also by Andrew Dawson. Many have said that it’s better even than the original version of Winner, and with its lush strings and gentle arpeggios it is tempting to wonder if that’s true. If you don’t bother with the rest of the remixes, you should definitely track this one down.
As a comeback single, Winner definitely had its disappointing side, but it also contained three great new bonus tracks and one very good remix, so it really wasn’t that bad at all.
If you missed it, you can read what I said about Elysium here. You can find all the pieces of Winner on iTunes here, and here. There’s also a CD version of the first package if that’s your preference.