Depeche Mode – Ben Hillier Trilogy

Trilogies of albums with a single producer seem to be somewhat en vogue in recent years, and since the release schedule is so much slower for most artists than it used to be, that can mean an ongoing collaboration lasting more than a decade. So it is with Depeche Mode‘s recent trilogy of albums with Ben Hillier.

The story began in late 2004 or early 2005 with the sessions to record Playing the Angel (released 2005). Depeche Mode were back in their stride by now, perhaps the most comfortable they had ever been with who they were. A decade earlier, the end of the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour saw the band in turmoil, with drug and alcohol abuse, Dave Gahan close to death, and the permanent departure of Alan Wilder. Ultra (1997), although undeniably dark in character, saw the first step of their rebirth, and the lighter Exciter (2001) saw them celebrating the pop and dark sides of their past.

This must have left them in a difficult place, in terms of the style they wanted to hit with the next album, but Playing the Angel finds them still comfortable with their sound. There’s nothing really weak about this album – it hops between exceptional (such as lead single Precious and follow-up A Pain That I’m Used to) and fair (tracks such as I Want it All and Macro may not be the band’s most memorable, but are far from their worst).

After the inevitable tour, they filled their time off with a good but unnecessary compilation, The Best of Depeche Mode – Volume 1, led by the lovely Martyr, an outtake from the previous album, and then some solo work including Gahan’s lovely second album Hourglass, before returning with Sounds of the Universe (2009).

This is where the idea of a producer-based trilogy starts to cause problems. Depeche Mode have always suffered badly from loudness, and all three of these albums are particularly bad examples, which would benefit from remastering despite not being particularly old. So that’s one problem, and the lack of change seems to have impacted creativity somewhat too.

It’s not that Sounds of the Universe is particularly badWrong is a great, beautifully dark, first single, and there are other great tracks on here too, such as Peace and Perfect. It’s just that a lot of it is very average, by Depeche Mode standards. Dave Gahan‘s songwriting contributions are fair at best, and a lot of Martin L. Gore‘s seem a little uninspired. Possibly the finest track of all on here is the Gahan/Gore songwriting collaboration Oh Well, which was inexplicably disposed of on the b-side of Wrong and the bonus disc of the album.

That bonus disc – and the box set of other discs – is this album’s saving grace. This was an age where Depeche Mode remixes were generally of high calibre, and the disc of historic demos is very welcome too. The album was still hugely successful, hitting number 2 in the UK and number 1 in many countries, so it was far from a failure – just perhaps a little disappointing.

Depeche Mode albums seem to take a four-year pattern, with an album (2009) followed by a tour (Tour of the Universe, 2009-2010), a DVD (Tour of the Universe: Barcelona 20/21.11.09, 2010), some side projects (Remixes 2: 81–11, 2011, and the adorable The Light the Dead See by Dave Gahan and Soulsavers, 2012), all of which kept the band more than busy enough before they needed to start work on the final release in the trilogy in 2012.

Delta Machine (2013) is the real disappointment in the trilogy. It’s worthy – there’s more real instrumentation here, and some great moments, including – as always, the lead single Heaven. Final single Should Be Higher is great too. But there’s a lot that isn’t, particularly Angel and Secret to the End, and the overriding impression you get is just how loud everything is. In the charts, Depeche Mode can do very little wrong, so maybe none of this matters particularly, but the final piece of this trilogy was not their best work.

Their fans never seem particularly keen whenever a new album lands, but enough time has passed now that the popular opinion on Delta Machine should have mellowed. Maybe it has, but I have to say, I’m still struggling.

However, this trilogy showed us that Depeche Mode have plenty more to offer the world of music, even if they only do it together once between each Olympics and World Cup. It showed us that they were capable of being very loud, even if that came at the cost of sound quality. And it showed us that maybe they benefit from having a new producer for each album, or perhaps this trilogy coincided with a wane in their creativity. Either way, they definitely still have it, and their time with Ben Hillier produced some of their best material. But it also produced some less notable works too.

See here for another summary of a producer trilogy.


The Enigma House

If you had stumbled upon this blog a couple of decades ago, I imagine you would have found a lot of posts about Michael Cretu, the Romanian-born driving force behind the chillout act Enigma. There’s something about those first three albums, MCMXC a.D. (1990), The Cross of Changes (1993), and Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! (1996) that you can’t quite deny makes him a master of his art.

Things started to go a bit wrong after that, though – The Screen Behind the Mirror (2000) is fine, and still has some lovely moments, but it just seems a bit unnecessary. Voyageur (2003) is terrible, A Posteriori (2006) a decent comeback, Seven Lives Many Faces (2008) variable, and I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered to track down The Fall of a Rebel Angel (2016) – I think partly because most purchase options seemed to also require the purchase of a narrated version.

In his sixties now, Cretu has had something of an illustrious career, having left Romania to study in Paris in the 1960s, and then playing keyboards for Boney M‘s megahit Rivers of Babylon in 1978. New wave solo hits followed across Europe over the next decade, but it was the Enigma project which really cemented his legacy, with over 70 million units sold in the thirty years that have followed.

Those sales led to healthy revenues, and Cretu settled on the Spanish Balearic island of Ibiza. Known in the early 1990s as the quintessential trance party island, it also features a stunning hinterland. This was the setting for Cretu’s 3,000 square meter Moroccan-style mansion, at a reported price tag of €18 million ($26 million), which involved shaving three metres of ground off the peak of a hill near Santa Agnès. Construction started in 1996, and was finally completed in 2001, so the then-state-of-the-art A.R.T. Studios, designed by Gunter Wagner and Bernd Steber, is presumably where Voyageur, A Posteriori, and also some side projects were devised and recorded. Contemporary photographs show that it was pretty stunning.!1m14!1m12!1m3!1d1203.8722290741048!2d1.308329520014409!3d39.034791015487926!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1610390595760!5m2!1sen!2sus

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. A new mayor took over in 2003, and started investigations. After years of ongoing legal action, the Spanish supreme court ruled that the property had been built illegally in a conservation area with an illegal building licence, and had to be demolished. Work to remove the property started in May 2009, and it took a matter of weeks to destroy the dream home. Cretu, feeling understandably betrayed, appears to have sold multiple properties on Ibiza and moved to Germany.

He initially fought for compensation, but a criminal case followed in 2013, focusing strongly on the fact that construction was over a considerably larger area than the permit had allowed, and seems to have resulted in a threatened six-month jail sentence for Cretu. This was converted to a fine of €21,600 plus liability for demolition costs, and the mayor and numerous other municipal employees were acquitted. The rubble that now remains on the site is a magnet for urban explorers, who captured this amazing bank of images in late 2016.

The court case seems to have been conclusive, so maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s hard to take sides in this particular story. Yes, obscene amounts of money were involved, and a building was constructed in a protected area, but it isn’t really clear to me whether Cretu himself knowingly broke any laws. Either way, it was probably fair that he should take responsibility – a property on the site was permitted by the town’s mayor in April 1997, although that permit was very late and for a much smaller property. Someone was definitely up to something fishy, but it’s difficult to say whether it was Cretu himself, or people in his employ colluding with the town mayor. The outcome – a ruined mansion sitting on top of a hillside – doesn’t seem ideal for anybody, so it’s tempting to feel a degree of sympathy for someone who thought they were building a dream.

You can also read more coverage here.

Pet Shop Boys – The Bobby O Years

For reasons that are unlikely to ever become clear, I just developed an unexpected obsession with the music of Bobby O. I suppose I had always liked Pet Shop Boys, who regularly cite him as an influence, but he’s also got some pretty great tunes in his back catalogue (particularly Passion, Helpless, and She Has a Way).

Famously Neil Tennant‘s career had a bit of a turn left moment in 1983, when he was sent to New York to interview Sting, and decided to take the opportunity to go and visit his hero Bobby O. Fascinated by the never-ending churn of disco tracks with his name attached, he saw an opportunity to record together, and Bobby O was apparently also excited to work with an actual human being, rather than one of his many pseudonyms and manufactured groups.

The most common evidence of this era is the original release of West End girls, first released in April 1984. Quirkier than Stephen Hague‘s number 1 single version, it’s an interesting piece – it has a lot in common with many of Bobby O‘s tracks, but you can hear there’s something a bit different about this one. Something a bit more British, maybe?

Apart from that, there are a couple of demo tapes, and a heck of a lot of dodgy European reissues and remixes, the latest of which just came out last month, so the timing seems perfect to re-evaluate this largely-forgotten era of Pet Shop Boys‘ early history.

The Original Singles – 1984

Not well known, even among fans, is the fact that there were actually three singles in 1984. West End girls was the first, and of course the most famous. The main release was essentially two tracks:

  1. West End girls 5:00
  2. Pet shop boys 5:10

Bobby O seems to have done his own extended mix of the lead track (7:52), and then there are two edits of each track, which it’s probably fair to assume were never officially sanctioned by Pet Shop Boys. In the case of the lead track, those edits are the “single version”, which was released a decade later (below), and what fans have inexplicably come to call the “Nouvelle” version. Various versions and formats of this single were released in the USA (on Bobby O‘s O Records), UK (on Epic), Germany (on ZYX), Benelux (on ChanneL), and France (on Jonathan).

The follow-up only made it to Germany and Benelux, and was One more chance. Curiously there is no “original version” of this track, and while Pet Shop Boys were presumably aware of what’s going on (hence the Massive demo tape listed later), it is unclear whether they actually approved of this follow-up:

  1. One more chance (Kordak Remix) 3:29
  2. One more chance (Bobby O Remix) 5:36

The third single was only ever released in Germany, and is by far the worst of the lot – an awkward medley of West End girls and Corey Hart‘s Sunglasses At Night remixed by ZYX’s Mach 2, West End – Sunglasses is a very odd mix. While Pet Shop Boys surely can never have approved of this, Bobby O must have, as his dub of the previous single made it to side B:

  1. West End – Sunglasses 7:32
  2. One more chance (Bobby O Dub Mix) 4:43

The Demos – 1984

Exactly what was tried out is unknown, but Neil Tennant did post a photo of an early mix of an in-progress album from 1984, containing the following obscurities – I’ve corrected the titles below:

  1. West End girls
  2. Opportunities (let’s make lots of money)
  3. It’s a sin
  4. I get excited (you get excited too)
  5. Pet shop boys
  6. That’s my impression
  7. A man could get arrested
  8. Later tonight
  9. To speak is a sin
  10. Pet shop noise
  11. Pet shop boys X
  12. Rent

Their management company Massive also sent around a cassette featuring several of these tracks, which was presumably what ultimately got them signed to Parlophone:

  1. West End girls (Extended Mix)
  2. One More Chance (Kordak Mix)
  3. Opportunities (let’s make lots of money)
  4. I get excited (you get excited too)
  5. Two divided by zero
  6. Rent
  7. It’s a sin
  8. In the club or in the queue (Ray Roberts Studio Demo)
  9. I want a lover
  10. Later tonight

History books also mention an unreleased 28-minute version of Pet shop boys, which we can only hope will never see the light of day.

The Cash-Ins – 1986-1988

Some very complex legal wranglings left the original versions of three tracks in Bobby O‘s hands – West End girls, Pet shop boys, and One more chance. Losing control of these cannot have left Pet Shop Boys particularly upset, but the remixes that followed surely must have. What’s not clear is exactly who was responsible – Bobby O is often blamed by fans, but it seems to be exclusively his German record comnpany ZYX who released these, and given how few reissues his other works have ever received, it’s tempting to wonder how much of a hand he really had here. Whether he did or not, they are uniformly dreadful.

Rather than being Pet Shop Boys singles, all three were effectively singles by a German ZYX artist called Manfred Alois Segieth, under his Hurricanes and Tess alter-egos. He seems to have created all the remixes (many of which are pretty poor), and also recorded both of the b-sides, which have zero connection with Pet Shop Boys.

First was West End girls ’86:

  1. West End girls (Remix ‘86) 5:00
  2. Theme for the Pet Shop Boys (performed by Hurricanes) 5:00

An edit of each of these was released on the 7″ version, but both of those turn up again later. Next came One more chance (New Remix 86), later reissued without any changes as New Remix 88:

  1. One more chance (Hurricane Mix by Tess) 4:57
  2. Theme for the Pet Shop Boys (Pt II) (performed by Hurricanes) 4:58

Again, edits of both were released on the 7″. And just as before, the third was the worst of the lot, an exceptionally badly mixed megamix, released in 1988, and released as ZYX Mega Mix:

  1. Megamix (West End – Sunglasses / One more chance / West End girls) 8:04
  2. West End girls (Remix ’86 – Single Version) 3:28
  3. One more chance (Hurricane Mix by Tess – Single Version) 3:25

Separately, there was a fourth single, The Ultimate Mix (also released in 1988), with a near-identical track listing, but this time the megamix was by Mario Aldini:

  1. The Ultimate Mix (Sunglasses at Night / West End girls / One more chance) 5:38
  2. West End girls (Remix ’86 – Single Version) 3:28
  3. One more chance (Hurricane Mix by Tess – Single Version) 3:25

The Reissues – 1992 and Beyond

Having cemented their place in history with no fewer than six singles, Bobby O‘s European record companies turn up again every few years with some new, and typically dreadful cash-in on a reissue of a cash-in. First was a 4 CD box set The Maxi-CD Collection Of The Pet Shop Boys, which contained the nine tracks from the West End girls, West End – Sunglasses, One more chance (New Remix ’86), and ZYX Mega Mix singles listed above (inexplicably, the original One more chance, West End girls ’86, and The Ultimate Mix were omitted).

Next came this bizarre 1992 CD of remixes by an uncredited individual:

  1. West End girls (Acid House Mix) 7:08
  2. West End girls (James Brown) 6:15
  3. West End girls (Original) 7:46
  4. West End girls (Montreal 12″) 8:17
  5. West End girls (Montreal Instrumental) 5:33
  6. West End girls (Montreal Dub) 6:49
  7. West End girls (Montreal 7″) 4:09

Followed by a 1995 CD single:

  1. West End girls 5:00
  2. West End girls (Remix ’86) 5:00
  3. West End girls (Single Version) 3:21

After a ten-year gap, the next was 2005’s bizarre CD Megamix (Original Giga Mix / House Remixes 05), a two-part megamix by ZYX’s latest artist Isy B, and containing remixes by him/her on the second half. It’s not fully clear to me what Original Giga Mix is.

  1. One more chance (Original) 3:23
  2. West End – Sunglasses (Original) 4:26
  3. West End girls (Original) 6:13
  4. Original Giga Mix 6:08
  5. West End girls (Remix 05) 5:46
  6. Pet shop boys (Remix 05) 5:00
  7. West End – Sunglasses (Remix 05) 4:34
  8. One more chance (Remix 05) 4:54

This one apparently erroneously samples Stephen Hague‘s version of West End girls, so is probably a bit of a legal minefield. ZYX appears to have given up after that, but then the Dutch label High Fashion Music took over the regular reissues, with this digital release first appearing a couple of years ago. I’ve corrected the mix titles for consistency with the other releases above

  1. West End girls (Single Version) 3:24
  2. West End girls 5:03
  3. One more chance (Bobby O Remix) 5:36

Finally, November 2020 just saw this new set, West End girls (2020 Remixes):

  1. West End girls (Michael Gray Classic Sultra Remix)
  2. West End girls (Ben Liebrand 9 Course Suite) 8:38
  3. West End girls (Ben Liebrand Bass Mix)
  4. West End girls (Moplen Classic West End Mix)

For now, that ends the sorry saga of Pet Shop Boys‘ early years. Three good songs, followed by countless dreadful remixes and poorly curated reissues. Really, they deserve a lot better – but could have ended up with much worse.

No More Q

I have to say, I was sorry to read about the demise of Q Magazine, which publishes its last issue this month after running for 34 years. In its early days, Q was comprehensive, witty and sartorial, and an entertaining read. I still have a few copies from the 1980s, and they’re worth revisiting from time to time. By the 1990s, while the music world obsessed with indie rock, they kept their broader, more mature appeal, and while they sometimes drifted a little too much into the realms of the Loaded sense of humour, it was still a strong publication.

The regular features were, of course, excellent, with Who The Hell and Where Are They Now? being instantly unforgettable. Even the reviews sections – often running to tens of pages per issue – were detailed and generally fair.

So that’s it, after 34 years, another piece of history disappears, partly thanks to our changing media landscape, but primarily due to the ongoing lockdown. It isn’t easy to fully explain the nature of the loss here – we’ve lost a lot of music publications in the last few decades, and a few remain, but nothing with the broad, open-minded appeal that Q offered. Q is dead, long live Q!

We have, of course, talked about Q a lot on this blog. Like it or leave it, it’s been a pretty influential publication over the years. Apart from attempting to cover the annual Q Awards (2019 will come soon, but here are 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and various posts about 1990-2012, including parts 1 and 2 of the winners), we also reviewed their U2 cover album here, and have probably mentioned them a number of other times.

Kraftwerk Alternative Versions

Like most people, I’ve found myself listening to a lot of Kraftwerk in recent times. One of the most mysterious parts of their oeuvre is the four-album series that appeared before they were really famous – Tone Float, Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, and Ralf und Florian, some of which contain some great material. But what they really represent in many ways is the sound of Ralf Hütter und Florian Schneider honing their… err… kraft.

Some purists saw the 2009 Der Katalog (The Catalogue) box sets as somewhat revisionist, as the artwork changed, Electric Cafe got retitled back to Techno Pop and the track listings were tweaked, but the reality is that Kraftwerk‘s special form of perfektionism has never been completely fixed. There have always been tantalising glimpses at unfinished and alternative tracks, and so here we explore those.

Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie 1Early version of Kometenmelodie 1, released on the Kohoutek-
7″ single in 1973.
Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie 2Early version of Kometenmelodie 2, released on the Kohoutek-
7″ single in 1973.
Techno PopThe 1983 version which would have been the title track of what became Electric Cafe. Somehow a demo version escaped the Kling Klang kompound, and appears on several bootleg releases.
The Telephone CallDepending on which you feel the definitive album version of this is, there is either an over-long 8-minute version (on Electric Cafe) or a shorter 7″ version (on Techno Pop).
House PhoneOriginally the b-side to The Telephone Call, this second part of the main track made it onto the 2009 reissue of Techno Pop.
Sex ObjectAnother 1983 version that has somehow circulated over the years.
RobotnilkA continuation of The Robots, released on the 1991 single.
RobotronikAnother continuation of The Robots, released on the 1991 single. An edit version also exists.
Expo Jingle30-second jingle (and six four-second snippets) released on the Expo 2000 promo box set.
Expo 2000 (Kling Klang Mix 2002)Early version with different drums, released on initial German pressings of the Expo 2000 single.
Tour de France 03 (Long Distance Version 2)Extended version of Tour De France Étape 2, released on the Tour de France 03 CD single.
ChronoAlternative version, released on the KW3 promo version of Tour de France Soundtracks.
RégénerationLonger version, released on the KW3 promo version of Tour de France Soundtracks.

It’s difficult to see some of these ever getting released again, unfortunately, but it would be nice to see them collected together as supplementary listening for a fascinating career.

Kraftwerk often described their live concerts as being a little like jazz, with improvisational moments woven into the hits, although you would often be hard pressed to notice. However, there are some exclusive early versions of tracks available on bootlegs that are worth hearing. The most widely available is probably Concert Classics (also released as Autobahn Tour and Live), where the third track, although listed as Morgenspaziergang (Part 1), is actually an otherwise unreleased piece called Kling Klang (not to be confused with the track on Kraftwerk 2 of the same name).

The Radio Bremen session from 1971 is also worth hearing if you’re searching for unreleased material, featuring five tracks of which only Ruckzuck was ever released, but most of this is barely recognisable as Kraftwerk, so may not be of huge interest to many.

Perhaps most notable of all is this bootleg from a concert in Croydon in 1975, which in addition to a number of other unreleased tracks pairs Mitternacht with a very early version of Showroom Dummies, finally released two years later and in very different form.

Their 1997 comeback tour saw the outing of three new tracks, with titles that haven’t entirely become clear yet. Tribal, or Nummweltverschmutzung, was one, and the other two were Lichthof and ZKM Song, although there’s no suggestion that any of those were official titles. This is probably the most listenable of all the bootlegs. It’s tempting to wonder whether these were just jams, or were intended to appear on an album one day? Maybe we’ll find out, if they ever get around to releasing it.

Kraftwerk Remixed

When you consider the huge part that Kraftwerk played in the development of electronic music, it is perhaps surprising how few remixes they have to their name – just N of their tracks have been remixed by others. In a way, there’s something rather beautiful about the preservation of their artistic vision in this way, but it’s also something of a shame that we can’t hear a few more reinterpretations, especially given how good the ones we did get are.

So here’s the full list:

1983Tour de FranceFrançois KevorkianKevorkian Remix (German)
Kevorkian Remix (English)
Kevorkian Remix (various edit versions)
1986Musique Non StopFrançois Kevorkian12″ Version
1986Der Telefon Anruf / The Telephone CallFrançois Kevorkian & Ron St. GermainRemix (German)
Remix (English)
1991Radioactivität / RadioactivityFrançois KevorkianFrançois Kevorkian 7″ Remix (German)
François Kevorkian 7″ Remix (English)
François Kevorkian 12″ Remix (English)
1991Radioactivität / RadioactivityWilliam OrbitWilliam Orbit 7″ Remix (German)
William Orbit 12″ Remix (German)
William Orbit 7″ Remix (English)
William Orbit 12″ Remix (English)
William Orbit Hardcore Mix (English)
2000Expo 2000OrbitalOrbital Mix
2000Expo 2000François Kevorkian & Rob RivesFrançois K + Rob Rives Mix
2000Expo 2000DJ RolandoDJ Rolando Mix
2000Expo 2000Underground ResistanceUnderground Resistance Mix
UR Infiltrated Mix
UR Thought 3 Mix
2004AerodynamikAlex Gopher & Étienne De CrécyAlex Gopher / Étienne De Crécy Dynamik Mix
2004AerodynamikFrançois KevorkianFrançois K Aero Mix
François K Aero Mix Instrumental
2007AerodynamikHot ChipIntelligent Design Mix
2007La FormeHot ChipKing of the Mountains Mix

There you have it – just eighteen remixes plus a handful of variations, of seven tracks, by eleven other artists. Some of the early ones don’t even stray far from the originals. But they’re pretty much uniformly fantastic, and do form a key part of Kraftwerk‘s wonderful discography – so I hope that one day we can see them all collected together. The Remix, anyone?

Kraftwerk in Translation

For me and I suspect many others, the right way to listen to Kraftwerk is in German. I don’t think I learned about the German versions until fairly late on, but they are definitely much more rewarding. It probably helps if you speak German, but the “Sekt / Korrrrrrrekt” line in Das Modell is definitely unparalleled by anything in the English version. But then I came across this hilarious performance the other day. Apart from seeing Karl Bartos corpsing and the late great Florian Schneider giving the hosts bunny rabbit ears at the very end, it also features a version of Pocket Calculator in Italian, which I had never come across before:

That got me thinking – which tracks actually got translated, and into which languages? So here’s a handy cut-out and keep guide!

GermanEnglishOther Languages
RadioaktivitätRadioactivity [1]放射能 / Houshanou (Japanese) [2]
Europa EndlosEurope Endless
SpiegelsaalThe Hall of Mirrors
SchaufensterpuppenShowroom DummiesManeken (Croatian) [2]
Les Mannequins
Manichini (Italian) [2]
Os Manequins (Portuguese) [2]
Manechine (Romanian) [2]
Trans Europa ExpressTrans Europe Express
Die RoboterThe Robots
Das Modell [3]The Model
NeonlichtNeon Lights
Die Mensch MaschineThe Man Machine
Computerwelt [3]Computer World
TaschenrechnerPocket CalculatorMini Calculateur (French)
Mini Calcolatore (Italian) [4]
Dentaku (Japanese)
Minikalkulator (Polish) [2]
Калькулятор (Russian) [2]
Computer LiebeComputer Love
HeimcomputerHome Computer
Tour de France (German)Tour de France (French)
Techno PopTechno Pop
Musique Non StopMusique Non Stop
Der Telefon AnrufThe Telephone Call
Techno Pop (German)Techno Pop (English)Techno Pop (Spanish)
Sex ObjektSex Object (English)Sex Object (Spanish) [5]


  1. Original album version was bilingual (in both German and English), but single versions and the version on The Mix were separate.
  2. These are not available as studio recordings, but have been played live according to this site, and some appear on bootlegs.
  3. The Model and Computer World have significant differences in vocal delivery between the English and German versions.
  4. Sadly, it appears the Italian version of Pocket Calculator was never officially released, although the version used for the television performance above appears to be a studio recording. This site lists some live versions as Piccolo Calcolatore instead.
  5. This seems to sometimes be listed as Objecto Sexual, but the original sleeve shows Sex Object.

Unless I’ve missed a few, hopefully everything that isn’t listed there is bilingual, an instrumental, or just generally the same in all languages.

If you haven’t come across these before, I hope you might find this list an interesting diversion – if you have only ever experienced Kraftwerk in English, you have a lot still to learn!

Thanks to the websites linked above for their help with my research!

Pet Shop Boys – Stuart Price Trilogy

When Pet Shop Boys reappeared with Electric in 2013, it was the shortest gap between albums in their career. Despite that, it seemed like a new beginning – leaving their former career-long label Parlophone and starting afresh with their own label, their comeback took place just nine months after its predecessor. Even the artwork seemed fresher, younger, and more modern.

There is, as many people have said before me, nothing new under the sun. With Elysium (2012), there had been a clear attempt to revitalise the lush beauty of Behaviour (1990), and so one way of looking at Electric would be that it was ostensibly an attempt to revisit Introspective (1988). Finding new form by revisiting the past isn’t anything new either.

Maybe part of the reason for the freshness in their new sound was the collaboration with Stuart Price, the electro-dance genius behind Les Rythmes Digitales, and so it was welcome news shortly after Electric appeared that this would be a trilogy. Trilogies are not, of course, something that Pet Shop Boys do. They never even really worked with the same producer more than once or twice, until now.

Either way, Electric was great – maybe you don’t agree that it was flawless, but at least it sounded fresh and different. The tracks were long, and breaking the mould of the last couple of decades, there weren’t twelve of them on the album – there were only nine. There was Thursday, a beautifully epic weekend piece with Example as a guest vocalist, and there was even a cover of a Bruce Springsteen track.

Three years would pass before the follow-up, and what’s interesting listening to Super (2016) is just how good it is. I think I realised that when it first came out, but fell out of love with it for a while. Somehow it felt like a pale imitation of Electric, but that’s not fair – if the first album was the underground dance entry in the trilogy, then this is the synthpop one, but that doesn’t mean it’s vacuous. In retrospect, our expectations were probably just a bit raised after Electric. The pop kids is a fabulous lead single, and Twenty-something typically incisive.

Creativity takes time sometimes, and so the third entry in the series, Hotspot, took another four years to appear, finally turning up in early 2020. I haven’t reviewed it yet here, mainly because I don’t think I’ve really digested it yet. It has many of the signature sounds of the previous pair, but it’s really the odd one out in many ways – this is the concept album in the series. For the most part, it’s Pet Shop Boys‘ ode to Berlin, and as I’ll probably explain when I do get around to reviewing it, that makes it very special to me. But then you suddenly get Burning the heather, a song that seems much more at home at Neil Tennant‘s rural home in the north of England. It’s funny – I feel as though I understand this album pretty well, and I would defend it to the hilt, but it also seems a bit of a mess in places.

What strikes me is that the end of this trilogy puts us at a natural endpoint for Pet Shop Boys. I hope that’s not true – I hope this is just the closing of another chapter, but it feels as though they’ve given us some classic, revitalised Pet Shop Boys over the course of this trilogy, and now they’re working with young retro remixers, recording unreleased songs from before they were famous, and giving us an album where the only clear statement seems to be “this is our life right now”. Of course, in a sense, that’s all any album ever is, and so whatever the next chapter holds, it could be very interesting indeed.

Please take a moment to look back at my reviews of Elysium and Electric. It looks as though I haven’t quite got around to Super yet, and I’ll try to get onto Hotspot as soon as I feel I’m ready.

You won’t believe these 5 amazing things that I just made up!

Did that title grab your attention? I’ve had it on a list of things to post for years, but then never quite get round to thinking of 5 amazing things to go under it. Well, here goes…

Björk Has Horns

Well, she does in this video to Wanderlust, anyway. Fog horns, to be exact.

Röyksopp Prefer Seafood

Look! Here they are freediving for crabs and scallops, so it must be true.

The Human League Like Car Boot Sales

I didn’t even make this one up – watch right to the end!

Kraftwerk Are Comedians in Their Spare Time

They made a pilot for a sitcom. Look, here it is!

There is No #5

I’ll leave it to Feist to explain why not.

That’s right! What I discovered is that you can just make things up and search YouTube, and something interesting is pretty much guaranteed to turn up.

History of the UK Charts – What Next?

Throughout this series of posts, we have explored the myriad odd, obscure, and intriguing official (or sometimes semi-official) UK charts. On the way past, we did skip a few, so let’s take a quick look at them before we go any further.

Independent Charts

The history of the Independent, or “indie” chart is well chronicled. By the end of the 1970s, numerous small independent record labels had grown up, with independent shops to support them, and they had started to build a healthy following. Because most of them were fairly small, with tight budgets, their chart performance tended to be limited, and so on 19 January 1980, the first Independent Singles chart was published.

Today, the 1980s are celebrated as the heyday of the independent charts, with books dedicated to the era, and while the 1990s saw the explosion of “indie” music (generally meaning grubby guitar-based music), many of the truly independent labels started to get gobbled up by the majors, who in turn spun up their own, partially-owned “independent” offshoots, in order to get a piece of this particular pie.

Finally, in 2009, this practice was made more difficult thanks to chart rule changes, and the indie charts live again – with a Top 50 Singles and Albums chart published weekly. The same week, 29 June 2009, saw the lauch of the Independent Singles Breakers and Independent Albums Breakers charts, a slightly odd pair of charts which are only open to artists who have never hit the main UK Top 20 previously.

My favourite chart of recent times is probably the Record Store Chart, a Top 40 albums chart, which was added just in time for Record Store Day 2012. Like the Independent Singles and Albums charts, it uses sales data from a sample of Independent retailers – unlike them, there are no restrictions on what can chart – it’s just a sales-based chart compiled from the best selling albums in independent record stores.

Regional Charts

Back in the 1950s, the UK charts had started in London, and had only spread slowly out of the capital, and so the regions and nations of the UK were often underrepresented. Northern Ireland, in particular, did not manage to contribute to the main UK Singles and Albums charts until the 1980s.

This lack of representation, and also the inevitable differing of tastes across the UK, led to a push for a Scottish chart in the 1970s, when Radio & Record News and Record Business started compiling charts. Gallup launched the first official Scottish chart on 17 March 1991, when it was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC1 Scotland. Current archives on the Official Charts Company website go back to 1994, which is when MRIB took over compiling the Scottish charts. It’s not clear now whether this was the start of the Scottish album chart, or whether that goes back further as well.

The Scottish charts had, as you might expect, always been kinder to genres of music that were better known in Scotland, so punk, rock, and new wave have always tended to perform better, and the 1990s saw an amusing wave of so-called Tartan Techno. Homegrown acts, too, performed better – often to the detriment of the chart, as Wet Wet Wet‘s infernal hit from summer 1995 Love is All Around, which dominated the UK chart for a mere 15 weeks, sat at the top in Scotland for an astonishing 20 weeks.

Another curiosity of the Scottish charts is just how far they lag behind the full UK ones in terms of keeping up with the latest listening trends. Whereas the UK charts added downloads into the mix from April 2005, they weren’t included in the Scottish charts until late 2009, meaning that a lot of fanbase-driven artists were able to score some exceptional hits, such as Pet Shop Boys hitting number 3 and 2 with Love etc and Did You See Me Coming? respectively, which only peaked at 14 and 21 respectively on the UK charts. Even now, five years after streaming was added to the UK-wide charts, it still hasn’t been added in Scotland, and so artists such as Pet Shop Boys continue to score hits north of the border.

The Welsh Singles and Albums Charts appear to have started around the same time as the Scottish charts, but curiously never seem to have built up the following. It was broadcast for a while by BBC Radio Wales from 2000 to 2007, and was available online during the same period. These have fallen offline now, but selected examples can be found, if you search hard enough – and the completist chart publication UKChartsPlus still carries them.

Modern Welsh chart watchers, perhaps understandably, seem more interested in the performance of Welsh acts on the full UK chart. You see occasional discussion of the Welsh chart from time to time, but it’s limited.

Saddest, and also most surprising, in a way, is Northern Ireland’s chart, which definitely existed at some point – I found references of chart show on the radio in 1989 – but there’s very little mention online nowadays. And, of course, because of the common confusion between England and the UK, it’s unfortunately impossible to know just from online searches whether England or any of its regions have ever had their own chart.

What Next?

So where does this leave us? In 55 years, we have gone from having no UK charts, to sheet music, to a small, tentative record of the best-selling singles, to albums, downloads, streaming, and now pretty much zero sales. The official UK chart has come to be one of the most painstakingly compiled datasets in the world – and yet, partly due to its own diversification, and partly due to changes in the world around it, it seems to have also become almost entirely irrelevant.

What’s nice now is that the Official Charts Company give us a full archive of the last couple of decades of charts on their website. While it would be nice if some of the niche charts were more complete, and it would be fantastic if they were fully searchable, it’s at least nice to have them all in one place.

The one trend that you can comfortably see is an increasing diversification of charts – no longer is there just one chart that everyone tunes in to hear on a Sunday afternoon. It’s almost as though we’ve returned to the late 1950s and early 1960s, where everyone has their own chart that they trust, and nobody really cares about the official one.

If there’s a trend to identify here, it’s that this shows absolutely no sign of slowing – this decade alone has seen the launch of the Asian Music Chart, Vinyl Albums, the MTV Urban Chart, Streaming Singles and Albums, the Record Store Chart, Classical Singles, Christian & Gospel Albums, Progressive Albums, Americana Albums, and the Scala Singles Chart. Next, we can probably expect a weekly Ed Sheeran chart and the K-Pop/Children’s Novelty Crossover Top 42.

But more likely, in a way, is that someone will come up with something new to take the place of the Independent Singles and Albums charts – something edgy, that all the cool people will buy into for a while, until it gets bought out and compiled by the Official Charts Company too, and everyone loses interest again. Time will tell.

This article owes a lot to the following sources: