Electronic – Getting Away with It

When they first appeared, three decades ago this week, Electronic must have been a bit of a revelation. True, New Order had been steadily evolving from rock to pop over the preceding decade, but a collaboration between Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr, the extraordinary guitarist from The Smiths, must have conjured up ideas of something guitar-heavy. It wasn’t – Getting Away with It was, in a way, both Sumner and Marr’s first experiment with true pop.

The single version is, as I’m sure you know by now, exceptional. It’s a pop song, with synth strings and sweet acoustic guitar work. There’s something a little quirky with it, of course, but it still holds together beautifully. On vocals, Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant – neither of them particularly accomplished vocalists, but both great in their own way – harmonise perfectly, bringing a delightfully humanist quality to the song. It’s definitely nothing like New Order or The Smiths, and although it is a lot like Pet Shop Boys, the pop lyric doesn’t feel like something that Neil Tennant would have come up with on his own.

The definitive track listing appears to be the digital reissue, pulling all the different tracks together in one place, and that takes us next to the lead track on the 12″, the Extended Mix. This is an extended version very much in the 1980s style – take the first verse and strip it back a bit, add an extra instrumental verse, and mix original elements in, one by one. It’s a worthy version, but to a modern ear, there’s surprisingly little new here until the long breakdown section in the middle, which could honestly be dispensed with.

By 1989, artists were already sending tracks off for a multitude of weird and wonderful remixes, but Electronic seem not to have been especially aware of this, so the various singles of Getting Away with It are largely peppered with alternative versions. The extended Instrumental is lovely, and unusually for an instrumental version, it stands well alone. This includes the longer orchestral ending that would appear on later versions of the single mix.

There is a b-side, though – and this is perhaps a surprise, given that it seems to have since flown completely under the radar. Maybe this was intentional, as it was omitted altogether from the CD release. Lucky Bag is a beatsy, early house instrumental that provides occasional echoes of Bobby Orlando‘s huge bass lines. It’s hard to know exactly what Electronic would have been thinking with this, to tell the truth – it’s nice, but also instantly forgettable. Maybe it’s an extended experiment, or maybe it was always intended to be a b-side. Either way, it’s a nice diversion.

There are remixes here, but there’s nothing particularly great. For whatever reason, the common trend at the time with remixes was to cut the original back, add beats, add a few cheesy synth lines, and a bit of a calypso arpeggio, and call it done. So it is with Graeme Park and Mike Pickering‘s remixes. The Nude Mix is an uninspired dub version with weird down-tempo, almost rave-inspired synth lines dropping in all over the place. The Vocal Remix is, I would assume, their attempt to add the vocal back in for a more radio-friendly version, and while there’s plenty to enjoy here, both mixes really seem to fail on most levels. They’re nice, but just not quite good enough, and while the final fade on the second mix comes a little suddenly, it really can’t come too soon.

It’s nice to get another version of Lucky Bag to close the release, but the Miami Edit is a curious version – slightly more beat-driven than the one on the 7″, but far from different enough to really be noteworthy. On the UK release, this was hidden away on the second 12″, which seems appropriate – it’s a nice treat, but nothing particularly special.

So Getting Away with It is a bit of a mixed bag – a great track, but not, perhaps, such a great single. Electronic, for the time being, showed all the signs of being a one-off experiment, but perhaps inevitably, given the success of this release, they got back together for the 1991 Electronic album, which then inexplicably went on to skip Getting Away with It from its original track listing altogether. But with Getting Away with It, they assured us that there was something special about this collaboration.

We reviewed the US CD single. The five versions of the original track from here can be found on this digital release.

Chart for stowaways – 17 August 2019

Here’s the singles chart for August:

  1. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  2. Hot Chip – Hungry Child
  3. The Beloved – For Your Love
  4. The Beloved – Deliver Me
  5. Tiësto/Jonas Blue/Rita Ora – Ritual
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  7. David Bowie – DJ
  8. Hot Chip – Melody of Love
  9. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  10. The Beloved – Ease the Pressure

Liza Minnelli – Results

I think I had always imagined that Liza Minnelli‘s pop career started with Results, and it is, but it turns out it was actually her ninth album in total, and one of her last. Pet Shop Boys were at the top of their game at the time

It opens with I Want You Now, a Pet Shop Boys composition that’s delivered with irritatingly theatrical flair. As with much of this album, the instrumentation comes from Pet Shop Boys‘ 1989 live tour crew, which leads to an eclectic sound at times. This isn’t, honestly, a great opening track, though – at least not for Pet Shop Boys fans – think about it, at this point they had just released their intriguingly dark dance album Introspective, and now this odd excursion into theatrical pop?

Things look up with the second track, Losing My Mind, later re-recorded with a less flamboyant and more nasal vocal by Neil Tennant and included as the b-side to their single Jealousy. It’s theatrical too – it’s a Stephen Sondheim composition – but the production here lifts it and makes it every bit as good as any Pet Shop Boys cover version. For Minnelli, it was her biggest hit, peaking at number 6 in the UK.

If There Was Love (“were there love,” surely?) is next, not necessarily a song that you could imagine Neil Tennant singing, but one that might have even fitted on the second side of Behaviour. Results is undeniably the sum of its part – you have Liza Minnelli with her theatrical influences, and Pet Shop Boys caught somewhere in the late 1980s, between the dance sounds of Introspective and the sombre mood of Behaviour.

So Sorry, I Said is lovely – there really isn’t any other way of describing it. The album’s third single in late 1989, it wasn’t much of a hit. That should have been obvious, really – the 7″ version was just the album version, which is downtempo to say the least – but it’s a sweet, appropriately apologetic song.

Don’t Drop Bombs isn’t exactly the polar opposite of the preceding track, but for the first time on here it’s really a full-on pop song. This is the sound of Pet Shop Boys truly collaborating – it could have been a perfectly good song of theirs, but as a Liza Minnelli song, it fits her well too. And while it may not be the best track ever recorded, with its huge eighties snares, it isn’t at all bad either.

There are a few unexpected tracks on here, and the cover of Tanita Tikaram‘s Twist in My Sobriety is one of them. What it really underlines is that the original song was great, and while I have no memory of what it sounded like for Tikaram, it works well for Minnelli. Even the whistling is forgivable, under the circumstances.

Less forgivable is the cover of Rent, with an orchestral arrangement by Angelo Badalamenti, who, as the silent partner on It Couldn’t Happen Here a couple of years earlier had helped provide one of the most beautiful moments of Pet Shop Boys‘ early career. Here, somehow his work has worked with the overbearing vocal delivery and butchered what was a beautifully melancholic track by turning it into a tacky showtune. It’s gaudy, and somehow even manages to sound insincere. It’s hard to imagine how this song could have turned out worse.

But that’s as bad as this album gets – final single Love Pains was a flop, but covers a disco classic, now as a Hi-NRG track. I could do without the key change under the circumstances, but it’s not bad. Then the cover of Tonight is Forever, from Pet Shop Boys‘ first album Please, is somewhat over-the-top, but works well, and is definitely well placed as the penultimate track on here.

Finally, I Can’t Say Goodnight is a new Pet Shop Boys composition, a broad jazzy, summery song, which has clearly been written especially for this album. Courtney Pine‘s saxophone solo in Left to My Own Devices on the duo’s 1989 tour may have been interminable, lasting for several decades at least, but his work here is well placed, and complements the vocals and backing well. The slow 6/8 rhythm gives it a typically murky feel which works well. It’s a good closing track.

Pet Shop Boys have since described Results as a PSB album with Liza Minnelli on vocals, and that isn’t unfair. In a sense, that means it will satisfy nobody, as fans of neither act are really likely to cross paths often, but even so, there are moments on this album when it works pretty well, so it shouldn’t be ignored outright.

You probably don’t need the 4-disc remastered edition of Results, but it’s certainly definitive – and can be found here.

Chart for stowaways – 22 June 2019

Moving into June now, here’s an update from the singles chart:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  3. The Beloved – Your Love Takes Me Higher (Evil Mix) / Awoke
  4. Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li – Late Night Feelings
  5. Marshmello feat. Chvrches – Here With Me
  6. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  7. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  9. David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging
  10. Tiesto / Jonas Blue / Rita Ora – Ritual

Chart for stowaways – 18 May 2019

Continuing with last month’s catch-up from April, here are the albums from mid-May:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Planet Jarre
  3. Ladytron – Ladytron
  4. Chemical Brothers – No Geography
  5. Dido – Still On My Mind
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  7. John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Wedding Album
  8. Maps – Colours Reflect Time Loss
  9. Various Artists – Electrospective
  10. David Bowie – Pin Ups