Pet Shop Boys – Concrete

By 2006, Pet Shop Boys were already twenty-five years into their music career, and they still hadn’t released a live album. But that would change with Concrete, released a decade ago this week.

Of course, the problem with live albums is that they often aren’t actually very good. You normally just get a few marginally different versions of tracks, which are clearly being played with a lot of energy, but unless you were actually there in person, it’s hard to get a feeling for what was actually going on at the time.

Trust Pet Shop Boys to do something different. Concrete starts with the enormous orchestral swell of Left to my own devices, and as on the original, that orchestra is actually real. This time it’s the BBC Concert Orchestra, in a concert recorded for BBC Radio, and as you might expect from that fact alone, it truly stands out as an exceptional live album.

There’s an unusual mix of tracks on here – of the seventeen, there are six from the latest album Fundamental, but the bulk were selected for their suitability to play with an orchestra, so after the introductions we get Angelo Badalamenti‘s rather awful rearranged version of Rent, and then an adorable version of You only tell me you love me when you’re drunk.

After a pretty awful sleazy introduction, Frances Barber of all people turns up to introduce the first new track, The Sodom and Gomorrah show, marking the first of the surprise appearances on this release. There’s another on the next song, as Rufus Wainwright appears to sing the bulk of Casanova in Hell, which suits the music well.

Concrete is characterised by a few things, then – the orchestral accompaniment, the guests, and the unusual selection of tracks. Continuing on the latter theme, we now get an excellent version of After all, from the Battleship Potemkin soundtrack, followed by another guest appearance from Frances Barber, now in character as the flamboyant Billie Trix on Friendly fire. The latter just about works, although it does require a bit of an explanation from Neil Tennant beforehand.

Disc one closes with a triumphant version of Integral, and then the pairing of new singles continues on the second disc with the lovely (but largely hated by the fans) Numb. In an environment such as this, you might think that a 1980s acid house classic might not fit too well, but somehow It’s Alright sounds amazing alongside these neighbours.

After Luna Park comes a major surprise: Nothing has been proved, written for Dusty Springfield back in the 1980s but rarely performed by Pet Shop Boys, and sounding completely fantastic here. Then comes Jealousy, in its wonderful extended form, but which maybe could have done with a little more rehearsal, as Neil has to rush a bit when he announces the surprise singer, Robbie Williams.

More surprising, though, is the inclusion of the adorably silly Dreaming of the Queen, from Very. It’s great to see the duo taking their art with a pinch of salt, even here. There’s grandiosity – It’s a sin closes the main set – but there’s also definitely a sense of humour.

Of the encores, Indefinite leave to remain falls a bit flat now – it’s a nice song, but that’s about all you can say for it. But right at the end, it mixes into the orchestral version of West End girls, which, of course, sounds amazing.

Concrete definitely has its ups and downs, but you can’t question its inventiveness as a live set, and for the most part it’s quite excellent. It’s not often I would say this, but this is a live album which is definitely worth tracking down.

Which you can do by clicking here or looking in any major retailer of your choosing.

The BRIT Awards 2008

February 9th 2008 saw The Osbournes in their entirety presenting the BRIT Awards at Earls Court in London.

This post is part of a series about the history of the BRIT Awards. You can read about the 2007 ceremony here, and the 2009 ceremony here.

MasterCard British Album

Presented by Vic Reeves. Nominees:

  • Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
  • Leona Lewis – Spirit
  • Mika – Life in Cartoon Motion
  • Mark Ronson – Version
  • Take That – Beautiful World

Winner: Arctic Monkeys

British Single

Voted for by listeners of hit40uk, and presented by Alan Carr. Nominees:

  • James Blunt – 1973
  • Mutya Buena – Real Girl
  • The Hoosiers – Worried About Ray
  • Kaiser Chiefs – Ruby
  • Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
  • Mika – Grace Kelly
  • Kate Nash – Foundations
  • Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse – Valerie
  • Sugababes – About You Now
  • Take That – Shine

Wikipedia lists Mutya Buena as having been eliminated on 15th February, James Blunt on the 16th, Kate Nash on the 17th, and Kaiser Chiefs and Sugababes on the 18th, leaving the following nominees on the night:

  • The Hoosiers – Worried About Ray
  • Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
  • Mika – Grace Kelly
  • Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse – Valerie
  • Take That – Shine

Winner: Take That

British Male

Presented by Beth Ditto. Nominees:

  • Newton Faulkner
  • Richard Hawley
  • Mika
  • Mark Ronson
  • Jamie T

Winner: Mark Ronson

British Female

Presented by James Nesbitt. Nominees:

  • Bat for Lashes
  • PJ Harvey
  • Leona Lewis
  • Kate Nash
  • KT Tunstall

Winner: Kate Nash

British Group

Presented by Sir Ian McKellen. Nominees:

  • Arctic Monkeys
  • Editors
  • Girls Aloud
  • Kaiser Chiefs
  • Take That

Winner: Arctic Monkeys

British Breakthrough Act

Chosen by listeners of BBC Radio 1, and presented by Jonathan Rhys Myers. Nominees:

  • Bat for Lashes
  • Klaxons
  • Leona Lewis
  • Mika
  • Kate Nash

Winner: Mika

British Live Act

Chosen by listeners of BBC Radio 2, and presented by Chris Moyles. Nominees:

  • Arctic Monkeys
  • Kaiser Chiefs
  • Klaxons
  • Muse
  • Take That

Winner: Take That

International Male

Presented by Kelly Rowland. Nominees:

  • Michael Bublé
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Timbaland
  • Rufus Wainwright
  • Kanye West

Winner: Kanye West

International Female

Presented by David Tennant. Nominees:

  • Björk
  • Feist
  • Alicia Keys
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Rihanna

Winner: Kylie Minogue

International Group

Presented by Denise Van Outen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Nominees:

  • Arcade Fire
  • Eagles
  • Foo Fighters
  • Kings of Leon
  • The White Stripes

Winner: Foo Fighters

International Album

Presented by Michelle Ryan. Nominees:

  • Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  • Eagles – Long Road Out of Eden
  • Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
  • Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
  • Kylie Minogue – X

Winner: Foo Fighters

Critics Choice

A new award, chosen by a panel of music experts, and presented by Will Young. Nominees:

  • Adele
  • Duffy
  • Foals

Winner: Adele

Outstanding Contribution to Music

Presented by Kylie Minogue.

Winner: Sir Paul McCartney


Further Reading / Viewing