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.

Chart for stowaways – February 2020

February was the month of Pet Shop Boys‘ intriguing homage to Berlin, Hotspot, which started the month off by entering at number 4, and then stole the top spot from Sparks, holding onto it for the rest of the month. They also did the double, with Dreamland holding onto the top spot for another three weeks and then relinquishing it to Monkey business at the end of the month.

This was also the month when The Beloved saw debut release Where it Is finally hitting the charts, deservedly spending the whole month in the top three. Singles Forever Dancing, If Only, and Grin all performed well, the first of those taking the top of the Catalogue Singles chart and also peaking at number 4 on the main chart.

Otherwise this was generally a month for introspection, with new releases by David Bowie, Marc Almond, and Ben Watt all performing well but failing to shake the acts at the top. Here are the singles from 22nd February:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Monkey Business
  2. The Beloved – Grin
  3. Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland
  4. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Almost

And these were the albums:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
  2. The Beloved – Where it Is
  3. Sparks – Past Tense – The Best Of
  4. Sparks – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
  5. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy

Chart for stowaways – January 2020

I’m afraid this won’t be a huge comeback quite yet, but I did want to check in with everyone. Hope you’re doing well in spite of the current difficulties. Let’s take a look back at the charts for stowaways from back in January.

January saw Pet Shop Boys dominating the singles chart, with Burning the heather grabbing the top spot for one week, and then Dreamland returning for the rest of the month. Decide and Monkey business floated around in the top ten as well. Vince Clarke‘s astonishingly good remix of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Almost kept it in the top three for the whole month, and Sparks‘ new 7″ release of Let’s Go Surfing spent the month steadily climbing as well. Both also spent the whole month holding onto the top two of the new Catalogue Singles chart.

Sparks also dominated the album chart, with their wonderful three-disc reissue of 1995’s Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins holding onto the top spot for the whole month, and their new Past Tense singles compilation holding the number two spot. It was a quiet month all round, with Hot Chip holding onto the number three spot as well.

Here are the singles for 18th January:

  1. Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Almost
  3. Sparks – Let’s Go Surfing
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Burning the heather
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Decide

And the albums:

  1. Sparks – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
  2. Sparks – Past Tense – The Best Of
  3. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
  5. The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths

Chart for stowaways – Albums 2019

These are the top albums for stowaways for last year:

  1. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity
  3. Ladytron – Ladytron
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Planet Jarre
  5. Sparks – Past Tense – The Best Of
  6. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom (Re-Imagined)
  7. Sparks – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
  8. Kylie Minogue – Step Back In Time – The Definitive
  9. The Future Sound of London – Yage 2019
  10. Dido – Still On My Mind
  11. Erasure – Wild!
  12. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
  13. The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
  14. The Radiophonic Workshop – Possum (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  15. Madonna – Madame X
  16. Divine Comedy – Office Politics
  17. Rammstein – Rammstein
  18. The Prodigy – No Tourists
  19. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  20. Lighthouse Family – Blue Sky In Your Head

Chart for stowaways – Singles 2019

Here are the top singles for 2019:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  3. Hot Chip – Hungry Child
  4. Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland
  5. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  6. The Beloved – For Your Love
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Almost
  8. Marshmello Ft Chvrches – Here With Me
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  10. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  11. Tiësto / Jonas Blue / Rita Ora – Ritual
  12. Ladytron – The Animals
  13. Sparks – Let’s Go Surfing
  14. The Beloved – Your Love Takes Me Higher (Evil Mix) / Awoke
  15. Mark Ronson Ft Lykke Li – Late Night Feelings
  16. The Radiophonic Workshop – Arrival Home
  17. New Order – Ceremony
  18. Gesaffelstein Ft Weeknd – Lost In The Fire
  19. Tiësto & Mabel – God Is A Dancer
  20. The Beloved – It’s Alright Now

History of the UK Charts – Format-Specific Charts

The UK has, as we discussed previously, a proud history of delivering a confusing range of genre-specific charts, but perhaps more intriguing are the format-specific ones. They’re nothing new, either – there are numerous today, but there were also several back in the 1980s.

Vinyl-Only Charts

The earliest UK charts, back in the 1950s, were, of course, format-specific, as there really was only one back then – 78s ruled until 7″ 45s took over. Although DJs had been cutting their own 10″ and 12″ acetates as early as the 1950s, the first commercial 12″ single appears to have been Buddy Fite‘s For Once in My Life, in 1970, and five years later, Donna Summer‘s Love to Love You Baby kick started an explosion of Jamaican 12″ releases, spreading back to the US and UK over subsequent years.

But the 12″ single was, of course, of special interest to disco and dance music fans, and so it seems logical that it would have had its own chart. Sure enough, from September 1985 to February 1991, early chart innovators Record Mirror carried the UK Twelve Inch Top 20, which in many ways remains one of the more interesting charts of the period. Apart from the obvious domination by New Order‘s Blue Monday, it sees some incursions by obscure releases that didn’t make as much of an impact on the main chart. Unfortunately, as with many of Record Mirror’s 1980s charts, there isn’t an official archive online now, but there are plenty of scans at the links below.

In the years after the death of Record Mirror in 1991, vinyl fell out of favour, with sales falling to practically zero by the late 1980s, and many major artists ceasing regular releases, so while the gap in the vinyl chart archive from 1991 to 2015 is a shame, we aren’t really missing a lot.

But with the revival of vinyl sales, there was a need for something similar again, and hence the launch in April 2015 of the official UK Vinyl Singles chart – followed, a year later, by the Vinyl Albums chart. Obviously the focus has changed again, with 12″ singles being joined by 7″s, 10″s, and all the other obscure shapes and sizes of vinyl. These are, of course, niche charts, dominated by reissues and collector’s editions, and the best illustration of this is the month or so every year after Record Store Day, when both charts get seriously clogged with random collector’s releases. But the Vinyl charts are a nice addition to the list of official UK charts, nonetheless.

Compact Disc and Cassette Charts

For pretty much the same period as the Twelve Inch Top 20 (1985-1991), Record Mirror also ran a Compact Disc Top 20, an album chart highlighting the best sellers in the new format. As with the Twelve Inch chart, it is appropriate that it was put to bed when it was, as a CD-only chart after 1991 would have showed very little unique when compared against the main chart. While it lasted, it was interesting – dominated in its early years by reissues and Dire StraitsBrothers in Arms, it subsequently came to echo the main album chart but with important differences – for instance in 1986, when Pet Shop Boys‘ debut Please was released only on LP and cassette, before climbing back up the main chart thanks primarily to its CD sales, several months later.

More intriguing, in a way, is the short-lived Cassette Top 20, which appears to have been published by Record Mirror for a matter of weeks in 1983 (here’s the page showing the chart from 29th January 1983, in which Men at Work can be seen climbing impressively to the top spot). While cassettes had been commercially available since 1963, and albums had been released directly on them for almost as long, it’s possible that they may not have made the chart until the 1980s. Perhaps this shows us a brief glimpse of cassette sales before they actually got added to the main chart – or perhaps it was only ever intended as an indicator of sales for a new-ish format? History doesn’t really give much information on this, unfortunately, so we can only guess now.

Airplay Charts

The US charts had always attempted to model what people were listening to, rather than what they were buying, and so had long incorporated airplay, but this was resisted in the UK, with claims that it would be too easy to manipulate the charts (as though somehow it was difficult to manipulate the sales-based charts). This is fair, but in the modern age, where streaming makes up most of the chart, it seems absurd (to me, anyway) to try to argue that airplay shouldn’t be included.

Either way, the ERA, and subsequently RadioMonitor, have been compiling a UK Radio Airplay Chart since at least 1993, supplemented by a TV Airplay Chart from 2010 onwards. These also have their own niche interest charts, with the Commercial Radio Airplay Chart also being compiled and carried today. It was also these charts that formed the basis of the often-confusing Hit 40 UK chart, the competitor to BBC Radio 1’s UK Top 40 countdown that was broadcast on Sunday afternoons throughout the 1990s. Hit 40 UK was carried by all the major commercial stations, and boasted a larger listenership, but also had the mind-boggling novelty of carrying the official Top 10 Singles, merged with the remaining 30 places of a combined airplay and sales chart.

Going Digital

We will cover downloads, streaming, and the niche charts of the digital age in a separate post next time, so for now,, vinyl sales are combined in the modern Vinyl Singles and Vinyl Albums charts, and CD sales can be inferred by comparing that with the modern Physical Singles and Physical Albums charts. And as we’ll explore, sales are jaw-droppingly low. But for now, this concludes our exploration of the format-specific charts.

Next time: the digital age

This post owes a lot to the following sources which weren’t directly credited above: