Two weeks ago saw yet another Pet Shop Boys anniversary – it was five years since the release of their BRIT Award shattering album Yes back in 2009. Following after the over-the-top Fundamental (2005), they stripped their sound down and remembered where they belong – firmly in the world of pop. Working with Xenomania, all the pieces of the album just seemed to come together perfectly.
Yes opens with its brilliant lead single Love etc, which with its colourful and bouncy video was a significant hit in an age where bands like Pet Shop Boys just weren’t getting hits any more, but it probably deserved to be a number one.
The album is far from perfect – second track All over the world is clearly supposed to sound flamboyant and charismatic, and it almost works, but somehow it manages to fall a little flat on the album version (the later single version is far superior). And German single Beautiful people is good, but it’s far from Pet Shop Boys‘ finest.
Second single Did you see me coming? falls a bit flat too – somehow the slightly meaningless chorus manages to grate a little. So it’s not until the fifth track Vulnerable that we’re reminded just how amazing PSB can be.
Fortunately, Vulnerable really is exceptional, a beautifully gentle and erm… vulnerable… track where the vocal effects are – unsually – key to delivering the song to perfection. Then More than a dream might be one of Pet Shop Boys‘ best tracks ever recorded – there’s something quite anthemic about it from the very start.
More than a dream also provides a reminder that Yes provided the return of a Pet Shop Boys staple, the exceptional middle eight. Some of their previous albums, such as Nightlife (1999) had effectively killed the middle section, and that’s alright, but it has always been one of the things that they do to perfection. And Yes features some fine examples.
Building a wall, apparently inspired by Neil Tennant having some builders around to get some work done, is an entertainingly silly concept, but it makes for a fun pop song, even if it channels Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Genetic Engineering a little. But fun pop songs are all this album is meant to be about, so that’s not a problem.
King of Rome provides a slower moment in the rather energetic second half of Yes, with a great trippy drum pattern. It’s perhaps not the best track on the album, but it is rather sweet.
Pandemonium introduces another PSB staple, the 6/8 rhythm, and one of the best tracks on the album. It’s perhaps a little too similar to Love etc to have been a single, but it would become one of the highlights of the live sets that year.
The penultimate track is my favourite on the entire album, the gorgeous The way it used to be. Tennant’s mournful vocal carries you into the fictional past of the song, but also into your own past, as you remember the times and places where you’ve enjoyed this song. For my part, 2009 was a very happy year – it was a great summer; I managed to travel across Europe and around the world; at the end of the year I said goodbye to a lot of great friends; and this album was the soundtrack to much of that. Ah…
The final track is Legacy, and is sadly a little anticlimactic. The Chinese audience got an instrumental version due to some slightly dissenting lyrics, and you can’t help but feel that might work rather better. Here, they let themselves down somewhat with some appalling French in the middle eight – “Tous les artistes dans le monde chantent pour toi ce soir.” Otherwise, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this song, but it is a low point on the album.
There was also – if you moved quickly enough to buy it – a great bonus disc modelled on The Human League‘s essential Love and Dancing (1982) and appropriately featuring Phil Oakey on This used to be the future, which probably should have been on the main album.
The bonus disc version is no longer widely available, so stick to the main version instead.