There are, naturally, good compilations and bad ones. In the case of Pet Shop Boys, it would be hard to find a truly bad one, but as an example Ultimate (2010) is a bit of a pointless overview. Discography (1991), on the other hand, definitely is not.
As you might expect from Pet Shop Boys‘ chart career, both have a lot in common – in particular, both start with the world-changing West End girls, the number one single released in 1985. But where Discography succeeds is by not missing a single hit during that six year period between 1985 and 1991.
There are, as the booklet attests, a lot of them. The beautifully melancholic Love comes quickly follows next, a modest hit which peaked at just number 19 while PSB were still finding their feet, and then the other two singles from debut album Please: the daft and flamboyant Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money), and their musings on city life in Suburbia.
As always, design is forefront for Pet Shop Boys, with a small photo of Neil and Chris hiding behind a bold blue banner on the cover. Far from screaming “here are eighteen huge hit singles,” it modestly states, “you’ll find some very good music on here.” Even if neither of them exactly look how they normally do on the cover.
Then things really went huge. From second album Actually, we get four enormous hits, starting with the memorable number one It’s a sin. The music is gigantic too, and all-encapsulating, but if you do get a moment to think, you’ll realise that you’re really listening to the history of the late 1980s here.
Rent is the one subdued hit from this period, hidden in among What have I done to deserve this? the then-non-album single Always on My Mind, and the album’s final hit Heart, peaking at 2, 1, and 1 respectively on the UK charts.
The mood definitely changes with Domino Dancing, coincidentally kicking off the second half of the compilation. Then the concert hall-sized Left to my own devices, the third of four singles here from six-track third album Introspective – we already heard Always on My Mind, and next comes It’s Alright, Pet Shop Boys‘ only release in 1989. Both are infinitely better in their single version forms.
So hard heralds fourth album Behaviour, a period of smaller chart hits, but enormously evocative and meaningful tracks. Being boring may have become a fan favourite in latter years, but stalled at number 20 on the UK chart when it came out originally. Then the non-album half of the single, Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You), always sounding brilliant.
The first song Pet Shop Boys ever wrote together was Jealousy, significantly re-recorded for Behaviour in 1990, and then slightly reworked with some real string instruments for the single the following year. Like Left to my own devices earlier, it really sounds very good indeed.
Towards the end, we finally get the two new tracks recorded especially for this release. Firstly, the dark and atmospheric anti-war piece DJ culture. It will probably never be remembered as one of PSB’s finer moments, and it wasn’t even a huge hit, but personally I find there’s something about it that haunts me. Then an attempt at simple pop with Was it worth it? which famously gave the duo their smallest hit to date. It might be a bit silly and superficial, but somehow, heard in the right circumstances, at the end of this collection, it’s gloriously uplifting.
Discography is simple: apart from a couple of early versions of West End girls and Opportunities, and international releases of One more chance, Paninaro, and How can you expect to be taken seriously? there’s absolutely everything on here. Now all we need is a nice boxed set with Discography 2 and Discography 3, complete with matching artwork. Please.
You can still find Discography at all major retailers, often for a budget price too.