Ten years on from their first release, Pet Shop Boys had firmly established themselves as key members of the British musical aristocracy. Their 1993 comeback album Very had already blown listeners away, hitting the top spot and spawning three huge singles including the iconic Go West.
The fourth single, Liberation was actually released twenty years ago this week. The a-side is a beautifully delicate track, full of lush strings and an incredibly sweet lyric. It’s far from the most obvious single, and it wasn’t their biggest hit ever, peaking at number 14, but it was a worthwhile reminder that these were the same people who had recorded the brilliant Behaviour just a couple of years earlier.
Lush strings also kick off the b-side, the brilliant Decadence, featuring some exceptional guitar work from Johnny Marr. It’s an unusual vocal, and it doesn’t really sound much like a Pet Shop Boys track until you hear lyrics such as, “Stop this caprice / You’ve got to cease / This fin de siècle pretence.” Would anybody other than Neil Tennant would come up with anything that literate?
After the lush beauty of the original version of Liberation and Decadence, the E Smoove mix of the title track comes as something of a shock. It’s rather difficult to fathom exactly what they were thinking by including this as the third track. All the singles from Very mixed a-sides, b-sides and remixes in a slightly incongruous fashion, but you could really be forgiven at this point for pressing the eject button and hurling the CD out of the window.
Which is not to say there’s anything particularly wrong with any of the remixes. True, E Smoove‘s twelve minute (yes, you read that right) epic main mix doesn’t actually include any of Tennant’s original vocals, or indeed anything else particularly discernible from the album version. But in an era where the remix had come to be just as important as the single itself, and listeners expected to be taken on fantastical journeys into the unknown with that remix, it’s difficult to criticise too much.
CD1 closes with E Smoove‘s 7″ Mix, which mixes the waily female and rapped male vocals of the long version with Tennant’s vocals from the original track. It doesn’t not work, but it’s tempting to suggest that they were best kept separate in the first place. On the other hand, as a house version of the song Liberation (rather than something entirely of E Smoove‘s invention) this isn’t entirely bad.
CD2, for the most part, is. Murk‘s Deepstrumental Mix, which kicks off the CD, is deep house in the traditional sense – don’t come here looking for anything from the original. Oscar G‘s ridiculously named Dopeassdub Mix is marginally better, but still doesn’t have a lot going for it. Again, you could be forgiven for having destroyed this CD by now too.
If you made it to track 3, however, you would be rewarded handsomely, for this is a mix which has entered legendary status among Pet Shop Boys remixes – Jam & Spoon‘s Trip-o-Matic Fairy Tale Mix of album track Young Offender. It’s huge (clocking in at nine and a half minutes). You can tell from pretty much the first note that it’s going to be enormous, and it is truly, in 1990s dance parlance, “anthemic.”
Track four is rewarding too, the acoustic version of Decadence. It might seem a little pointless at first glance, but it brings out Johnny Marr‘s guitar work brilliantly. The song has to be among Pet Shop Boys‘ best b-sides (and there are many of an extremely high standard) and this version is every bit as good as the original.
Those willing to shell out for the rather beautiful double 12″ package were also rewarded with a second Jam & Spoon mix of Young Offender as well as some more deep house drivel. So in all formats Liberation was definitely a mixed bag, but the a-side, the b-side, and the remixes of Young Offender should have been more than enough to make it worth owning. If only they hadn’t made you listen to all the house in between.
If you’re lucky, you might still find a second hand copy of the single floating around. Otherwise the a-side and b-side can be found on the 2001 reissue of Very, while the remix of Young Offender appears on PopArtMix.