The Shamen – UV

The Shamen always seemed pretty daft and short-lived, and so it’s odd to think about reviewing one of their albums two whole decades after its release. Odder still, when that album is UV.

This was their final release, following two years after their final release on One Little Indian, Hempton Manor. The story goes that they were trying very hard to get themselves released from that contract, but having done so, The Shamen were effectively over. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that UV is a little uninspired at best.

Opening track Mercury offers little new. The beats are, perhaps, a little more house-inspired than previously, but otherwise this could have fit well on Axis Mutatis (1995). That’s a good thing – Axis Mutatis was a great album, but it’s perhaps surprising that three years later they were opening an album with something so similar.

The album had launched with the single Universal, but oddly The Shamen have never quite seemed to be able to bring their own ideas into full fruition without a little help (as witnessed by all the Beatmasters remixes of singles which turned out to be so much better than the originals). So it is that 187 Lockdown‘s handiwork on Universal is what really brings it to life. With that, it’s a great mix of deep house, and the dance/pop crossover that The Shamen were so good at.

The mix of interplanetary and old world references were one of the things that had characterised Axis Mutatis, accompanying tracks that were probably very good for taking drugs to, and so having got the single out of the way, UV settles back in with more of the same. Palen (K) is a very good instrumental, driven by a huge acid bass line. Nothing new, but nothing bad either. Beamship – Brief Sighting is a short beatsy thing that doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants to be.

You’ll experience a brief moment of joy as I Do sounds a lot like Ebeneezer Goode for exactly one note, and having got past that, it’s a pretty good song, with some nice vocal work but the lyrical drivel that you should absolutely be used to by now. As with a lot of The Shamen‘s own production work, it almost works. Imagine how good this would have been if The Beatmasters had been allowed to get their hands on it.

Pop is next, a big, slow instrumental that takes some inspiration from preceding albums Hempton Manor and Arbor Bona Arbor Mala, the exceptional bonus disc that accompanied Axis Mutatis. It’s not quite as good as any of that, but having accepted that this is a bit of a career retrospective album, it’s good to have a nod to it here.

One of the more misguided things on this release are the multiple versions of Universal, which does make it feel as though it was thrown together pretty quickly from a few random leftovers. 1999‘s version is pretty poor – all the interesting parts of the earlier version have been removed, and replaced with dull house beats, and not a lot else. Even the fade at the end seems to have been slapped on in less time than it took the track to play.

Sativa ’98 is an updated version of an underground 12″ that the duo had released the preceding year, and it’s another pleasant house instrumental, taking a lot of influence from those preceding instrumental albums again. It’s the sort of thing that I feel I’d enjoy more as a single track on an obscure vinyl white label – on an album, or on this album anyway, it just doesn’t quite seem to work.

Serpent is typically daft, but it’s probably the best track on here actually. Again, there’s nothing particularly new here, but it does at least show The Shamen at their best – silly lyrics against great, banging dance music. My apologies for the use of the word “banging” there, but it seemed appropriate.

Next is Mr. C‘s club mix of U Nations, which seems to be different from Universal, although it’s not entirely clear how, as some of the lyrics are shared between the two. I’m not sure my brain can cope with this, but at least some of it appears to be borrowed from Universal, which makes it the third time they’ve put it on here. Is that really necessary?

For Marca Huasi, we get an exploration of drum and bass, territory into which The Shamen had strayed a couple of times before, and you feel as though they almost know what they’re doing, but it doesn’t completely work here. It’s good, but it’s not great. The Technical Itch mix of Sfynx is better, an instrumental, still drum and bass, but they haven’t tried to mix a song into it, so it’s clearer what it’s trying to be.

Finally, we get Metatron, which particularly seems to be echoing Axis Mutatis, but this time they do it well, with the slightly frenzied beats and lyrics that are probably as silly as ever, but aren’t really audible. And then the album draws to a close. So UV isn’t a bad career retrospective for The Shamen, but it’s probably a good thing that they never followed it up – there’s little new here apart from the discovery of house beats.

This album is no longer available new, but you should be able to find second-hand copies floating around.

The Shamen – Boss Drum

In 1992, The Shamen were truly in control of their careers. The five years that came before had been turbulent, as they journeyed from indie to pop-dance

Fifth album Boss Drum opens with the self-produced version of the title track, later released, in reworked form, as the third single from the album. Most of the singles were remixed at the hands of The Beatmasters, and frankly those that weren’t do suffer noticeably. So the album version of Boss Drum is a bit dull and noisy, particularly when compared to the single.

For L.S.I.: Love Sex IntelligenceThe Beatmasters were at the helm as producers, and this is consequently brilliant. Mr. C‘s rap is typically awkward, but hey, these were the early 1990s – pretty much nobody in the UK was an expert at rapping back then. This was released as the first single in June 1992, and immediately hit number four.

With seven singles from a ten-track album, there’s little room for anything else here, but Space Time is one of the few album-only tracks. It did appear on The Face EP in remixed form, and with some acid chirps it’s a bit deeper than some of the other tracks on here, but ultimately it isn’t really anything special.

Librae Solidi Denari literally means “pounds, shillings, and pence” in Latin, but you have to wonder from the initials and some of the other tracks on here whether it took its inspiration from another source. It’s a pretty dull tribal instrumental that also made it onto The Face EP and the subsequent remix album Different Drum.

Then comes the number one hit Ebeneezer Goode, released just a couple of weeks before the album appeared. In a curious step, listeners of the LP version get The Shamen‘s own (vastly inferior) version, whereas on the cassette and CD you get an extended version of The Beatmasters‘ single version. It’s a great track, very much of its time, and yes kids, it is about drugs. Don’t do them.

The second half of the album kicks off with the final single, Comin’ On. If there was ever a track that needed to be reworked by The Beatmasters, this is definitely it. On the album, it’s a dreadfully misguided attempt to sound Indian (or possibly West Indian? It’s difficult to tell at times – or perhaps that’s the joke?) full of silly voices and sitar samples and descriptions of people as “yellow” (was that really ever acceptable?) It would be hard to believe that this seemed funny to anyone, even shrouded by illicit substances as they probably were when it was recorded.

But amazingly, there was a good song hiding in there. The 1993 single version strips out all the silly and racist bits and turns it into something quite brilliant. The Beatmasters, it seems, are indeed capable of magic.

They also had their hands on the single version of Phorever People, released just in time for Christmas in 1992, but in this instance the album version holds the song together well. It’s followed by the dreadful album-only track Fatman.

Things do improve towards the end though, with the pleasant instrumental Scientas, which could have only been improved if it had been a bit more melodic, and finally the eight-minute single Re:evolution, featuring the drug-inspired ramblings of neophilosopher Terence McKenna.

I like the track – actually I like it a lot, particularly some of the remixes on the single from The Future Sound of London and others, but bluntly, he is talking total nonsense. Even the first sentence, “If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed,” doesn’t really make sense if you stop and think about it. I’ve really tried – I’ve been listening to this song for at least two decades now, and ultimately I’ve had to just conclude that the whole thing is gibberish. But close your eyes, try not to listen to the actual words too carefully, and maybe imagine you’ve injected a lot of cannabis pills, and you can enjoy it as an intriguing, experimental piece of music. Which is reasonably true for the album as a whole actually, on balance.

But in the end, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The CD version of the album gets you a couple of additional dub versions of Boss Drum and Phorever People, but honestly it isn’t worth the bother. Save yourself the money and just get the singles album The Shamen Collection instead.

If you do fancy a copy of Boss Drum, it is still available here. It’s worth taking a few minutes to enjoy the reviews first.

Peel Sessions – The Shamen, 12 February 1991

The Shamen‘s fourth and final John Peel session was recorded in February 1991 and broadcast several times that same year. The Shamen had long been featured on Peel’s radio shows, and he seems to have even stuck with them once they transitioned from psychedelic eighties “alternative rock” to the rave-pop-dance that they were so fond of in the early 1990s.

The session opens with a pretty good version of En-Tact‘s Hyperreal, already available in the shops for a year or so at this stage. It seems to have gained some slightly daft sound effects which weren’t there on the quite brilliant original version, and it’s notably lacking the input from William Orbit that made the US album and subsequent versions so good, but it’s still pretty strong.

Make it Mine had already been a single in 1990, and this version seems to have undergone a slightly ill-advised reworking, with a pointless middle section and a length rap from Mr. C. It’s interesting to see them exploring some slightly different directions, but they really don’t seem to know what they’re doing. The input of The Beatmasters that would characterise the next album seems long overdue.

Possible Worlds is a nice inclusion – definitely one of the best tracks from En-Tact, it offers them a chance for some musical exploration without going completely off the rails. There’s a bit more freestyle rapping (including rhyming “brain pattern” with “Saturn”), which is definitely unnecessary, but in general it’s pretty good. Just not quite as good as the original version.

Then comes In the Bag, which I think I’m saying was never released anywhere else. It’s a pretty nice ambient piece which is entirely lacking in melody, but it’s a strong inclusion nonetheless. In a way it’s pieces like this rather than the better known singles and album tracks that make it worth hearing these sessions.

You can read more about The Shamen‘s relationship with the John Peel show here. This session is available on The Shamen‘s 1993 compilation On Air, which is still widely available.

The Shamen – Axis Mutatis

An album that seems to have been around my whole life long celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week, The Shamen‘s most complete effort Axis Mutatis (1995).

After their initial acid and industrial explorations, The Shamen‘s commercial explosion came with 1991 (-ish)’s Pro-Gen, which you might know as Move Any Mountain. The Boss Drum album which followed in 1992 yielded pretty much every hit single anybody had that year, but has little else to offer, and so it’s very much left to Axis Mutatis to be an album in its own right.

Axis Mutatis opens with its most commercial track, the weirdly astral Destination Eschaton. Proving that drugs do little for your comprehensibility, this is the single that instructs listeners to “imminentise your Eschaton”, but for all its lyrical weirdness it’s a great pop song.

Single Transamazonia follows. The Shamen were at the top of their game here, as both Axis Mutatis and its companion piece Arbor Bona Arbor Mala emit an analogue warmth and depth which they hadn’t tapped previously and never would again.

The Aguirre-inspired Conquistador follows, with the early Latin American explorers getting a heavy dose of criticism for their love of gold, and then MK2A (“Mauna Kea to Andromeda”) follows. A couple of years ago I watched the New Year’s sunrise from Mauna Kea, which is definitely a deeply spiritual experience. If I were to try to put it into words, it would probably sound something like this.

In a rare case of a miss for The Beatmasters, omnipresent in the 1990s, both when they created their own hits and when they turned everyone else’s songs into huge hit singles as well, their single version of MK2A, which appears on the 1998 compilation The Shamen Collection isn’t anywhere near as good. Given that they were responsible for this and two other tracks on this album, that’s a curious fact, but sadly it’s true.

On the face of it, Neptune is one of the less exciting pieces on the album, an instrumental based around weird poppy and bubbly sounds. It is nice, though, and offers a gentle interlude after the heavily pop-driven dance that’s all around it.

Apart from any narcotic influences it may or may not have, Axis Mutatis seems to be influenced by a number of factors, but the conflicts between the old and new worlds during the Age of Discovery seem to play a big part, and Prince of Popocatapetl returns to that theme. With relatively few lyrics, but lots of deep jungle and acid noises, it’s an intriguing musical exploration.

Next comes the poppier, bubblier, and entirely more daft third single Heal (The Separation), produced by Steve Osborne. As with Destination Eschaton, you would be hard pushed to describe what it’s actually about, but it’s a great, uplifting dance track, and a worthy single.

A lovely deep instrumental follows, Persephone’s Quest, full of deep chimes and bobbly bass parts. It’s a reminder, were it needed, that The Shamen are a lot more than just the people who brought us Ebeneezer Goode and then had to spend a lot of time trying to justify it to the tabloid buying public – they are also capable of beautiful electronic music.

The mid-1990s were the period when cramming as much onto your album as possible was all the rage, and you do have to wonder slightly whether Moment actually adds anything much to Axis Mutatis, but it’s not doing any particular harm where it is, at the deep and dark instrumental end of the album.

The bonus disc Arbor Mala Arbor Mala is a magnificent 70-minute exploration of deep electronic trance music, which I’d hoped to find time to review here in its own right, but it will have to wait for now. As a precursor, the tail end of Axis Mutatis brings you a four-part piece called Axis Mundi, which mixes into one of The Shamen‘s own takes on Destination Eschaton (possibly proving that without The Beatmasters at the helm it’s not nearly such a good song), followed by the eleven minute Agua Azul. If you came here expecting more hit singles, you’re going to be disappointed, but for fans of electronic music, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Bringing up the rear, and strangely lonely right at the end, is S2 Translation, a musical conversion of the amino acids in the S2 protein. Or something. As ideas go, it’s nearly as daft as trying to play the music notated by birds sitting on a telephone wire, but it’s very listenable too. The result is a strangely hypnotic piece, which closes the album entirely appropriately.

Sadly that was pretty much it for The Shamen – 1996’s instrumental follow-up Hempton Manor is great too, but was never going to be much of a commercial success, however much they wanted to blame the record company for its failure, and 1998’s final UV is an other-worldly exploration with little to offer the charts.

You can find Axis Mutatis at your regular music retailers, most likely second hand. Try to make sure you’re getting the double CD including Arbor Bona Arbor Mala.

Music for the Masses 39 – 7 May 2005

For the final run of Music for the Masses, from April to May 2005, I had secured the coveted Saturday night slot, building people up to a stomping night out in Leeds. Or alternatively helping them to revise for their exams. Or potentially neither; it was rather difficult to tell. But looking through the playlist, I can see a slightly more uptempo seam running through the show, culminating with the Electromix at the end of the show.

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Show 39: Sat 7 May 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: The Shamen.

  • Morcheeba – World Looking In
  • Erasure – Here I Go Impossible Again
  • 1 Giant Leap feat. Robbie Williams & Maxi Jazz – My Culture
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Shamen – Comin’ On (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Sylver – Make It
  • Aurora – Ordinary World
  • BT – Orbitus Terrarium
  • Kraftwerk – Aérodynamik
  • The Shamen – MK2A
  • Depeche Mode – Freelove (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Technique – Sun is Shining
  • Felix – Don’t You Want Me
  • Yello feat. Stina Nordenstam – To the Sea
  • New Order – Jetstream (Arthur Baker Remix)
  • The Shamen – Indica
  • Binar – The Truth Sets Us Free
  • Talk Talk – Talk Talk
  • Mirwais feat. Craig Wedren – Miss You [Electromix]
  • Elektric Music – Lifestyle (Radio-Style) [Electromix]
  • Front Line Assembly – Everything Must Perish [Electromix]
  • Fluke – Absurd
  • Bent – The Waters Deep

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Music for the Masses 21 – 10 October 2004

After a four year break, Music for the Masses made its triumphant return, switching now from Aberystwyth to Leeds, and finally making the break into the world of FM broadcasting. The first show started a few minutes late, as the producer had fallen asleep so deeply that he couldn’t hear the telephone ringing, as I frantically tried to get somebody’s attention inside the building so I could come in and do my show. After a lot of waving my arms around, I finally got the attention of the DJs, who politely waved back. Eventually, somebody let me in, and the show began.

Show 21: Sun 10 Oct 2004, from 4:05am-6:05am

Broadcast on LSR FM, on FM and online. Artist of the week: Depeche Mode.

  • Télépopmusik – Breathe
  • Air – Cherry Blossom Girl
  • Enigma – Boum Boum (Chicane Mix)
  • Delerium feat. Zoë Johnston – You & I
  • Depeche Mode – Behind the Wheel (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Alpinestars – NuSEX City
  • Front Line Assembly – Transmitter
  • Client – The Chill of October
  • Yello – Time Palace
  • Depeche Mode – Only When I Lose Myself
  • S.I. Futures – Eurostar
  • Echoboy – Turning On
  • Dirty Vegas – Days Go By (Acoustic)
  • New Order – Touched by the Hand of God (Biff & Memphis Remix)
  • Apollo 440 – Vanishing Point
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence
  • Asana – Re-embodiment
  • Goldfrapp – Hairy Trees
  • Orbital & Angelo Badalamenti – Beached

This show was recorded, and for the most part still exists. It will be posted as a Playlist for stowaways soon.

Erasure – I Love Saturday

This week two decades ago saw the release of one of Erasure‘s last successful singles, I Love Saturday. It’s an interesting novelty, having been released on an enormous number of formats (I’ve got three CDs, a cassette, and a very scratched jukebox 7″, and there’s a 12″ too), and so includes more than enough tracks for it to be worth reviewing.

The lead track is one of the less interesting moments on the not-entirely-interesting 1994 album I Say I Say I Say, and the first CD brings dull remixes from JX and the disappointingly off-form Beatmasters, plus a new instrumental b-side Dodo, on which Vince Clarke gets to flex his long-neglected Irish muscles. Erasure b-sides are always a mixed bag, and this is far from one of their best examples.

Disc two includes the best of the remixes, Andy Bell‘s own Flower mix, in collaboration with Neil McLellan and Gareth Jones, which downplays the original song to the point where it barely appears, and replaces it with a bouncy synth part and some backing vocal wailing. In addition, there’s another Beatmasters attempt, the less exciting 303 mix and a dreadful dub version of Always by DJ Professor.

It’s the third disc, though, the EP, where things get really interesting. After the lead track comes the lovely Ghost, which is haunting, dark, and actually considerably better than many of the songs which made it onto the album six months earlier. It’s also six minutes long, and half way through it goes instrumental in a way they would explore on the brilliant subsequent album Erasure a year or so later, so maybe it was a hint of things to come.

Next is Truly, Madly, Deeply, another great song, much darker than anything else they were doing at the time, and again rather better than a lot of what they had recently released too. It’s beautiful, but with an air of mystery and darkness which they hadn’t really explored before.

The Live Vocal version of Always b-side Tragic is a pleasant inclusion, and although it is a worthwhile reminder that Erasure‘s lyric writing isn’t always the most profound on the planet, it is definitely nice to hear, and it’s good to have another version of this song. And if it was actually performed live, as the version name implies, then Andy Bell does deserve a lot of respect as a vocalist. It closes the EP in appropriately pleasant form.

If you took the trouble to track down the cassette (or US CD) version of the single, you’ll have also got the acoustic (well, acoustic-ish) version of Because You’re So Sweet, which for me is the best recording of what should have been a very nice song, but was a little overblown on the album. Originally performed as part of the Unpeeled sessions during the summer for the Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie radio show alongside a version of Heart of Glass, it cuts most of the instrumentation back to a simple synth line or two and the vocals, revealing it to be a very beautiful song.

So the I Love Saturday single package is proof that you shouldn’t always judge an entire single by its lead track – the EP in particular is well worth owning, perhaps more so even than the album it came from.

It appears the I Love Saturday EP is still available, and is definitely worth a couple of pounds. Skip the other two discs, but maybe get the American version if you’re desperate for more.

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 – Very

Neil Tennant often refers to Pet Shop Boys as having had an “imperial phase,” some time in the mid-1980s, when everything they released turned to gold. What’s perhaps apparent now is that there wasn’t a single “imperial phase,” as much as a gentle decline into mid-1990s obscurity as they reached what might have been the twilight of their career. Very should be considered imperial – it’s their only number one album to date, and delivered one of their biggest hit singles in the shape of Go West.

It seems an entirely appropriate moment to write this review too, with their latest album Electric having the incredible claim of being their most successful for two decades. Very was their 1993 comeback, released an astonishing twenty years ago this week. Let’s take a listen…

The first track is the totally brilliant Can You Forgive Her? which turns out to be about a gay man coming of age, although honestly I think you can enjoy the song on any number of levels without knowing this. It’s essential, imperial Pet Shop Boys – quite unlike anything that came before it, and yet at the same time entirely theirs. It’s got all their hallmarks, such as the incredibly clever and witty Tennant vocal, and it’s delivered over a slightly naughty 6/8 rhythm. Couple all of that with a video with pointy hats in it, and you really have something incredibly special.

Next up is the sadly inferior original version of I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing, later beaten into fine shape by The Beatmasters. It’s still a sweet song, again with great lyrics, but the production is something of a let-down once you’ve heard the remix. The beautiful Liberation follows. It was a surprising fourth single, but worked extremely well, and given the mood of the song was also a surprisingly big hit. Perhaps the naff house mixes which backed it up helped somehow.

A Different Point of View is classic Pet Shop Boys, in that there’s nothing especially remarkable about it, but somehow it’s a beautiful track, perfectly delivered. This being the early 1990s, it’s got a bit of a house sound to it, but otherwise the production is fairly simple pop – rather overloaded as many Pet Shop Boys tracks are and should be, but nothing too groundbreaking either. Then Dreaming of the Queen brings its hilarious (and now slightly poignant) lyric, again alongside exquisite production.

It’s always nice to have an album with hits that come thick and fast, and Very is one of those. Yesterday, When I Was Mad was the final single, either the fifth or sixth depending on whether you count Absolutely Fabulous, and is a charming and wonderful commentary on the boys’ life in the limelight, with odd tempo changes that seem counterintuitive but work perfectly.

Side B is a little less radio-friendly than Side A, but it still never disappoints. The Theatre is beautiful, perhaps the only song which harks back to the previous album Behaviour (1990). One and One Make Five is a little silly and insubstantial, but it’s also fun and fits in nicely. To Speak is a Sin, a leftover from the Bobby O era prior to Please (1985) is a perfectly delivered description of nervous first encounters.

By Young Offender it’s almost tempting to suggest that we’re deep into filler territory, and the remix is much better (in fairness, it is). But we’re not – this is a dark and deeply atmospheric track which is quite beautiful. And One in a Million would be an exhilarating, uplifting final piece to close the album off.

Would be, if it weren’t for Go West, sitting right on the end, and every bit as glorious as it is camp. It’s almost out of place, and for all the post-Soviet overtones, it is still a little bit silly. But it’s also brilliant, and really should have been number one instead of the infinitely less memorable Boom! Shake the Room!

But wait, even that’s not the end! Leave the CD playing for a few minutes more, and there’s something very special tacked onto the end. Entitled Postscript, or I Believe in Ecstasy, the minute-long bonus track actually features Chris Lowe singing. A totally brilliant ending to a quite exceptional album.

Without a doubt, Very is Pet Shop Boys‘ peak. They had shown their maturity already with the previous album Behaviour, but they were still more than capable of pulling their pop punches and adding a string of hits to their belts. Whatever you think of the subsequent albums, it would be a long time before they hit pop perfection to this degree, and it would be even longer before their commercial success caught up with them to this degree.

You need to own at least one of the two double CD versions of Very – either Very Relentless, which you’ll need to buy second hand, or the more recent Very / Further Listening 1992-1994Ideally both.