Pet Shop Boys – Disco Four

The interesting thing about Pet Shop Boys‘ “disco” series is the fact that there’s really no rhyme or reason to it – despite using the same branding, they seem to reinvent it every time. Disco (1986) was a collection of six 12″ mixes and b-sides from the debut album Please, then Disco 2 (1994) was a megamix of tracks, mainly from VeryDisco 3 (2003) was the dance accompaniment to the previous year’s guitar-driven Release, and finally (to date) Disco Four (2007) is a compilation of Pet Shop Boys‘ own remixes of songs by other artists. Well, some continuity might be nice here.

Anyway, having got that out of the way, let’s give Disco Four a listen. It opens with the Stars Are Blazing mix of The Killers‘ Read My MindNeil Tennant has a habit of adding his own backing vocals whenever they remix other people’s tracks, which doesn’t always work, but here it does. This isn’t so much a remix as an electronic re-thinking, as for the most part it’s probably more radio than club-friendly, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

David Bowie turns up next, with a version of Hallo Spaceboy that had only appeared commercially for the first time in 2004 on the double-disc reissue of Outside – for some reason when the single appeared originally it was demoted to a promo-only version. It’s great to finally hear this version of one of Pet Shop Boys‘ finest collaborations in its full seven-minute glory.

Next they turn up with one of their own, the download-only single (and minor hit) Integral, heavily reworked for this release. Depending on your perspective, this is either a nice inclusion or a bit of an oddity, as they suddenly turn up remixing themselves.

Yoko Ono might be spectacularly crazy, but Walking On Thin Ice is a pretty good track, and the Pet Shop Boys remixes that accompanied the 2003 reissue are truly exceptional. Here we get their Electro remix, with an enormous LFO bass line and huge synth swells. It’s completely and undeniably fantastic.

Next Madonna turns up, with Sorry, from 2006. Pet Shop Boys were clearly in their element around this period, taking other people’s tracks and throwing huge 1980s bass parts and robotic voices all over them. It’s difficult to fault, unless you want to pick at Madonna‘s awful pronunciation of “sorry” in various languages, and that was hardly the remixers’ fault.

Next are Atomizer, whose 2002 single Hooked on Radiation appeared on Pet Shop Boys‘ own record label, including this, the Orange Alert mix. It’s a catchy track with a great synth line, but nothing particularly special. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pretty much nothing has been heard of Atomizer in the decade that has followed.

Rammstein, on the other hand, had long since achieved legendary status when Pet Shop Boys turned up to remix Mein Teil in 2004. It’s an interesting piece, as PSB have never really delved too deeply into the world of industrial metal, and here they take the opportunity to cross genres with a bit of electroclash. In general, it works well, and doesn’t sound too awkward.

Finally, they bring us back to one of their own recent hits, I’m with Stupid, from the same year’s studio album Fundamental. The Maxi-mix is longer, full of electronic breakdowns, although somehow it loses a lot of the “fun” essence of the original.

So all in all, Disco Four is an entertaining diversion. It’s nice to see some of the various remixes by Pet Shop Boys gathered in a single place, particularly for those like me who hadn’t been particularly diligent in collecting them as they appeared. But there’s also something a little pointless about the whole thing – were these tracks collected together for any particular reason? Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

Surprisingly, Disco Four seems to have fallen out of print in the last decade. Most of the tracks are available on other releases.

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Stowaway Heroes – Shep Pettibone

One of the most important names of the 1980s is Shep Pettibone. You’ll know him from multiple remixes and production credits, but there’s a good chance that you don’t actually know anything about him. Me neither, frankly, so let’s start with something we can all agree on – the brilliance of his 1986 remix of Love Comes Quickly, by Pet Shop Boys:

The New York-based DJ would work with Pet Shop Boys a number of times between 1986 and 1988, working on ten tracks in total. But by 1986, Pettibone was already half a decade into his career, having cut his teeth on Afrika Bambaataa‘s Jazzy Sensation in 1981:

His CV for the late 1980s is impressive to say the least, including remixes and production work for Art of NoiseThe B-52sBee GeesBrosDavid BowieDepeche ModeDuran DuranDusty SpringfieldElton JohnErasure, FalcoGeorge MichaelJanet JacksonNew OrderRun DMCWhitney Houston and many others. But his most prolific collaborator seems to have been Madonna, who used his services no less than sixteen times between 1985 and 1993. Here’s Into the Groove:

His mixes were undeniably of their time, with huge drum fills and solos, and a lot of orchestral hits – so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his remix work dried up somewhat in the 1980s. But if you’re looking for someone who heavily impacted the sound of a particular era, Shep Pettibone should be very high on your list.

Chart for stowaways – 10 June 2017

Here are the latest albums:

  1. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  2. Erasure – World Be Gone
  3. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  4. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  6. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  7. New Order – Music Complete
  8. David Bowie – Hunky Dory
  9. New Order – Lost Sirens
  10. Gorillaz – Humanz

Greatest Hits – Vol. 10

A couple of times a year, I like to take a little breather and highlight some of the reviews that you might have missed on this blog in the past. Here are my choices this time. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed that, why not check out Volume 9, here?

Chart for stowaways – 3 June 2017

These are the week’s top singles:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Undertow
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  4. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  5. Depeche Mode – Cover Me
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  7. Depeche Mode – You Move
  8. David Bowie – No Plan
  9. New Order feat. Brandon Flowers – Superheated
  10. Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive

Chart for stowaways – 6 May 2017

This is what the latest single chart looks like:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Undertow
  3. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  5. Depeche Mode – You Move
  6. David Bowie – No Plan
  7. C Duncan – Wanted to Want It Too
  8. Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive
  9. Depeche Mode – Going Backwards
  10. Depeche Mode – Cover Me

Moby – 18

It has been suggested by many that Moby‘s 18 showed a certain lack of creativity. Play had definitely been something completely new – and it had taken a long time to get off the ground – but by 2002 we were all well familiar with its contents from every TV advert and film that had appeared in the last few years. Time for a follow up.

But 18 opens with We Are All Made of Stars, which was also the first single, and is undeniably very different from anything Moby had done before, so creativity was not lacking completely. It’s a great song, which owes a lot to David Bowie, and a great opening track.

Jennifer Price turns up next to deliver the vocals for third single In This World, a beautiful track, but very much in the vein of Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? If you were looking for excuses to accuse Moby of repetition, they definitely exist here.

Next come The Shining Light Gospel Choir to help out on the irritatingly similarly named In My Heart. This one is sufficiently different from most of Play, but by now you’ll definitely be finding it difficult  not to make the comparison.

As with Play, there are eighteen tracks on here, and Moby does a good job in structuring them and making them different enough that they flow together well as an album without being boring, but that’s a tough ask with so many different tracks. The big change from the preceding album is the focus on collaborations, rather than sampling old records, and so the soft vocals of Azure Ray make a pleasant change on Great Escape.

However, when Moby turns up to deliver his own vocals against his thick pads and gentle drums, you can’t help but thinking it sounds familiar. Signs of Love is great, but surely he did something like this an album or two ago? Well, probably not two, because that would get you to Animal Rights, but you get the point…

Dianne McCaulley sounds like a sample on One of These Mornings, but I don’t think she is. It’s another great song, but it could very easily have fitted on Play. Same with Another Woman and the sweet, semi-acoustic Fireworks.

Second single Extreme Ways is next, and is characteristic of the fact that Moby really was extremely creative with this album – he just underplayed it very badly. As a single, it peaked at number 39 in the UK, performing less well than several of its neighbours, and yet it has appeared in pretty much every Bourne film ever since, and the Bourne’s Ultimatum remix performed nearly as well on the charts as the original. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with the song – in fact it’s excellent – but perhaps people were a little burnt out from hearing too much Moby in 2002.

Having heard the German single version with Princess Superstar, the album version of Jam for the Ladies, with MC Lyte and Angie Stone falls a bit flat. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it – it just seems a bit dull compared to the reworked version.

Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) is a beautiful piece – it’s built around a sample, so it’s very much Moby‘s turn-of-the-millennium signature sound, but it’s also one of the best, and was a worthy single, even though it failed to make the charts. This is followed by a sweet instrumental, the title track from the album.

It’s worth remembering that Moby was a long-term New York resident, and released 18 just six months after the September 11th terror attacks. But there’s relatively little sadness or introspection on here, until the beautiful Sleep Alone. Written just the week before the attacks, it’s a haunting piece about lovers dying in a plane crash.

There’s a certain sadness to At Least We Tried as well, and then Sinéad O’Connor turns up for Harbour. I’m not actually overly enamoured with her voice, and this is a nice track, but I’ve always wondered if it actually really goes anywhere. After a while, you’ll just find yourself drifting from one song to the next, as Look Back in carries you onwards.

The Rafters is a bit different – a little bit, anyway, with a gospel “mmmm” most of the way through it, and then we’re on to the final track I’m Not Worried at All already, a beautiful closing track, and a very different one to the preceding album.

So 18 may not have actually been Moby‘s second album, but it is a difficult second album, in its own way. It has a lot to offer – it just might have been better regarded if it hadn’t come out quite so soon after the success of Play. If you know his works but not this album, now would be a good time to give it a go.

You can still find 18 from major retailers, at a bargain price.