Pet Shop Boys – Disco 2

Twenty years ago this week, Pet Shop Boys released their second remix album Disco 2. The first in the series, released in 1986, was a mid-eighties style remix album, collecting together just six extended and slightly altered versions of singles and b-sides from debut album Please. Similarly, Disco 2 is very much of its era – the mixes are made very much with the dancefloor in mind, and everything is presented in one 45 minute continuous mix by Danny Rampling.

It’s also almost universally despised by fans, and I have to confess that in 1994 I wasn’t too sure either, I think because of the almost total absence of Neil Tennant‘s original vocals on some tracks. But is it really that bad? How does it stack up in 2014?

After a thirty second reprise of Rollo‘s remix of Absolutely Fabulous, things kick off in fine form with the brilliant Extended Nude Mix of I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing, remixed by the Beatmasters. It’s a bumped up, extended version of the single mix, and it’s a great way to start.

Another version of the same track follows, this time DJ Pierre‘s rather lousy Wild Pitch Mix. During this era Pet Shop Boys quite rightly experimented with some rather unexpected remixers and remixes, and in fairness this is probably one of the least bad of a very bad bunch, but it certainly doesn’t do the original song any favours.

Very smoothly and unnoticeably, it mixes into Go West, mixed in similarly unrecognisable fashion by Farley & Heller. It’s an enjoyable enough house mix, but ultimately just feels rather pointless, and then we’re on to one of the longest tracks, and also one of the most dire on the entire collection, the E Smoove 12″ mix of Liberation, which I’ve tackled previously on this blog.

Fortunately, from this point onwards, proceedings start to pick up. David Morales‘s Red Zone mix of So Hard, the oldest track on this collection dating from 1990, is a little too short, but is a very welcome inclusion. Rollo‘s dub of Can you forgive her? is neither the best example of a mix for the song nor the artist, but is still better than much of the first half of the album.

Junior Vasquez‘s Factory Dub of Yesterday, when I was mad, the first of three versions, is nothing special, and then somewhat unpredictably we’re onto one of the best tracks on the entire album, Rollo‘s Our Tribe Tongue-in-Cheek Mix of Absolutely Fabulous, pretty much in full this time. There’s really something rather anthemic about this as you see him flexing his pre-Faithless muscles to make a mix which is a lot better than the somewhat cheesy original.

A none too smooth transition takes us on to the next mix of Yesterday, when I was mad, this time by Coconut 1, which is probably the best of them, and fills in for a couple of minutes until the middle section of the slightly odd but very enjoyable Jam & Spoon mix of the same track.

The real surprise is the last track, the rather saucy Ambient Mix of We all feel better in the dark, mixed by Brothers in Rhythm, and originally hidden away on the limited edition second 12″ of Being boring in 1990. With its gentle guitar work and tentative use of the original vocal, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on here, and makes a great album closer.

Disco 2 has a lot in its favour actually – despite having so few tracks, it’s a very varied collection, and it’s entirely contemporary for 1994. But ultimately a remix album is made for the fans, and that’s where this one falls down. Including so few original vocals was certainly a mistake. Perhaps the original idea, which would have included tracks from Relentless (reviewed here) would have worked better?

But how could it really have been improved? Well, by including some of the really great remixes, for one thing. Jam & Spoon‘s take on Young offender, which seems to now be uniformly accepted as one of PSB’s best remixes ever. The rare Voxigen Mix of I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing by Coconut 1, which never saw a UK release, or there are plenty of others to choose from.

But ultimately, despite entering Pet Shop Boys folklore as their worst release to date, Disco 2 really isn’t that bad. Open your mind a little – this is a remix album after all – and put yourself in the mindset of 1994, and there’s plenty to enjoy.

You can find Disco 2 at all major retailers, such as at Amazon, where you can also read some entertaining alternative reviews.

Pet Shop Boys – Liberation

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.