Retro chart for stowaways – 20 May 2006

While I’m still away on my holidays, here are the top 10 albums from eleven years ago:

  1. Massive Attack – Collected
  2. Goldfrapp – Supernature
  3. William Orbit – Hello Waveforms
  4. I Monster – Neveroddoreven
  5. Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel
  6. Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor
  7. Röyksopp – The Understanding
  8. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  9. Röyksopp – Röyksopp’s Night Out
  10. Sugababes – Taller in More Ways

Pet Shop Boys – Release

An album which is often either overlooked or maligned is Pet Shop Boys‘ eighth studio release, Release, which came out fifteen years ago this week. Having seen a steady decrease in success for nearly a decade, and having also sat on the sidelines while indie rock took over the UK charts, they decided to go for a much more raw, rock-inspired sound. The fact that this coincided with a resurgence in electronic pop on the radio is a classic Pet Shop Boys move.

It opens, unusually for Pet Shop Boys, with the lead single Home and Dry, an understated lead track with a delightful synth line. It’s a great synth song – honestly it was never going to be a huge hit, and did pretty well to scrape in at number 14, but in the context of this album, it fits very nicely.

Second (and in many countries final) single I Get Along comes next, famously a song about Tony Blair‘s relationship with spin doctor Alistair Campbell. It’s a rock ballad, and didn’t cut down especially well into its edited single version form, but in full album form, it’s a great song, and could easily have fitted on any number of 1960s LPs.

Birthday Boy is another rock ballad, a fun pop song about Jesus. In retrospect, this surely deserved a place on their Christmas EP a few years later. One of the nicer aspects of this song is hearing Neil Tennant sing in a much lower register than normal – actually slightly lower than he seems comfortable with at times. But it’s always nice to hear male vocalists singing in a more natural range.

Then comes London, the German-only third single, a sweet, guitar-driven song about immigrants from Eastern Europe coming to the UK to look for work, and finding some of the excitement that the city can hold. Where I struggle personally with this song is its use of autotune – it’s already turned up a couple of times on this album, and already it’s starting to sound a bit overused. On London, it does start to jar a little (you can read more of my thoughts on the subject here).

E-Mail is next, and marks a definite end to Side A of this album, an extremely accurate and contemporary song about falling in love via electronic media. Unusually for Pet Shop Boys‘ 1990s releases, but in common with the theme of Release, there are only ten tracks on here, and some of the best tracks of the era (Always is perhaps the most notable) ended up as b-sides or on Disco 3, which appeared the following year.

But there are some more electronic moments here, and Side B opens with The Samurai in Autumn, a semi-instrumental dance track which actually fits nicely here due to its grimy production. It’s about the state of the duo’s career at the time of the preceding album Nightlife (1999), and sees them at their most introspective on this album.

The next two tracks are undoubtedly the best on here, and I’d be hard-pushed to choose between them. Love is a Catastrophe is an exceptional piece, and what it really highlights is that Pet Shop Boys have taken a very different songwriting approach with this album – it’s not just the songwriting that’s different, they have really never recorded anything quite like this anywhere else. Then Here, which really should have been called Home, had it not been for the opening track on the album. In many ways this is a return to their normal style, but done extremely well.

Most of the way through the album, its reputation as one of their poorer efforts is looking extremely unfair, but there are valid criticisms. One for me would be the way it was marketed – I’ve never really seen any good reason why it would have been called Release – it’s a good name, but it doesn’t really fit the music – and while the artwork, a series of embossed flowers, is great, that fits neither the title nor the songs.

But those are minor quibbles, it’s still a great package. Until The Night I Fell in Love, anyway. I do appreciate what they were doing here – someone did need to show Eminem that he can’t go around being mean to everyone else without some degree of comeback. It’s pretty clever too – suggesting someone so publicly homophobic would actually be gay is genius. The best comeback Eminem could manage was suggesting he had run Pet Shop Boys over in his car in Canibitch. Anyway, perhaps this might have been better as a b-side?

You Choose is the final track on here, another example of their having taken a very different songwriting approach. It’s a really strong closing track, which fits the theme of the album very nicely, and it features a typically wise Tennant lyric.

So Release might not be perfect, but it does have a lot to offer, and fifteen years on, it’s definitely worth giving another chance. You might still end up concluding that it’s Pet Shop Boys‘ least good album, but that’s no bad thing either – it’s up against some pretty stiff competition to be their best.

You should still be able to find copies of the original Release of release, but you might want to wait, as the rumour mill suggests a new reissue might be on its way.

Retro chart for stowaways – 15 May 2004

I’m off on my holidays at the moment, so here’s the album chart from twelve years ago this week!

  1. Air – Talkie Walkie
  2. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  3. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  4. Dido – Life for Rent
  5. Erlend Øye – Erlend Øye – DJ-Kicks
  6. Zero 7 – When It Falls
  7. Sugababes – Three
  8. Dubstar – Stars – The Best of Dubstar
  9. Bent – Programmed to Love
  10. Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven

Chart for stowaways – 18 March 2017

This week’s top singles looked like this:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  2. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  4. C Duncan – Wanted to Want It Too
  5. Delerium with Phildel – Ritual
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Leaving
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 19)
  8. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever
  9. Depeche Mode – Going Backwards
  10. The Weeknd Ft Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming

Chart for stowaways – 4 March 2017

Singles:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution?
  2. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  4. C Duncan – Wanted to Want It Too
  5. Delerium with Phildel – Ritual
  6. Weeknd Ft Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming
  7. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 19)
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Memory of the Future
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Say It to Me

Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods

After a gap of twenty-five years, filled only by an entire musical career with Everything But The GirlTracey Thorn returned ten years ago this week with her second solo album Out of the Woods.

It opens with the sweet, nursery rhyme-like Here it Comes Again. I haven’t heard her 1982 debut A Distant Shore, but I think it’s probably safe to say that it sounded a lot less polished than this. It’s laid back though, and lacks some of the electronic sound of her work with Everything But The Girl, so the opening riff of A-Z will be very welcome if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. It’s a great synth song, very different but every bit as good as anything Thorn had done in the preceding couple of decades.

The lead single was It’s All True, a collaboration with Ewan Pearson and another great synthpop song. It’s a lot more playful than you might be used to, but it’s still extremely good. And the collaboration obviously worked out – Pearson produced the entirety of Thorn’s subsequent album Love and Its Opposite (2010).

Get Around to It is a cover of a song by Arthur Russell, which is a little harder to fathom than some of the other things on here, and then Hands Up to the Ceiling is a wonderfully ironic, largely acoustic piece about partying.

Thorn worked with a wide range of different collaborators on this album, and it shows, both for better and worse – it’s a deliciously varied collection, but it can be a little hit or miss at times too. Easy is one of the better pieces on here, full of atmosphere and melancholy, and Falling Off a Log may not be the catchiest ever, but it has an enormous bass part and some clever production too.

Nowhere Near passes you by fairly anonymously, but Grand Canyon, which rightly appeared as the album’s third single with a whole pile of remixes, is probably as close as this album gets to the likes of Missing – it has a catchy but sad melody, with an enormous house riff in the background, and frankly it’s fantastic.

The production on the more folk-flavoured tracks is fun too, and it’s probably fair to say this would be less of an album without them, but on the other hand By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept is definitely a lot less memorable than Raise the Roof, which follows, and also appeared as the second single.

Amazingly though, this is such a varied album that you probably didn’t notice this was the last track already. Digital editions added a beautifully broken down cover of Pet Shop Boys‘ King’s Cross, which later appeared as a single in its own right with a fantastic remix by Hot Chip, but you don’t get that on the CD unfortunately.

Apart from that notable omission, Out of the Woods is a great second album, and an extremely promising way for Thorn to revitalise her career.

Buy the digital version of Out of the Woods here, or buy the CD but then make sure you add King’s Cross on for yourself – it’s a key part of this album.