As mentioned earlier, the album was the first to utilize guitars, I do think however that in comparision to 2002’s Release the amount of guitar playing here isn’t that much at all, because the album is still entirely electronic driven more or less, with the guitar parts just being slight solo parts here and there. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, and at the time it would have been a far bigger shock. Having said that, Pet Shop Boys weren’t exactly electronic purists prior to this album, after all they did have orchestral arrangements on Left To My Own Devices for instance.
The album itself was produced by Harold Faltymer, who was chosen for his specialist knowledge in analogue synths after Pet Shop Boys decided to adopt a more analogue sounding approach on their next album. What I find particularly interesting though was that originally it seems the album could have sounded much different. Neil had originally intended for Miserbalism, We All Feel Better In and Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend to be on the album and presumably, have a sound that was more akin to So Hard. However Chris didn’t agree, and as such the album didn’t follow that route and the afformationed three songs became B-sides instead. Whilst I really like all three songs, I have to agree with Chris in this case, the eventual sound they went for sounds much better I think.
Musically, the album is as strong as ever, with some particularly beautiful melodic moments (Johnny Marrs guitar playing on This Must Be The Place, the string ending to My October Symphony for instance) however were the album really shines is in the lyrics. I do adore Neil’s songwriting in general, but here I think its probably at its best. Only The Wind, which is about domestic abuse but from the perspective of the person actually committing the violence is one of the most chilling songs I have ever heard. I love this album mainly because I think its the first one were his lyrics really shine through (I think sometimes that because of their more commercial sounding dance tracks people do tend to overlook Neil’s very talented ability as a songwriter.)
I think its possibly their most important record in a way. The album shows their ability to create strong melodies and captivating songs without the need to resort to euphoric dance tracks. The album I think shows off their ability as brilliant musicians, not just an average group that can create a floorfiller but not much else. It was their first big change in sound, and one that I feel shows off their ability to adapt to different styles but still make good music and retain a core sound.
However, it does feature quite heavily on slow songs, so it isn’t one that I would recommend for new Pet Shop Boys fans who are just discovering them. I will admit, this album didn’t grab me at all when I first heard it as it’s much more mellow, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with some of their best work. Its possibly their most popular album, and in my opinion it demonstrates perfectly their abilty to create brilliant songs and that they are not a one trick pony. Not only my favourite Pet Shop Boys album, but probably in my top 5 of all time, its a masterpiece!
- My October Symphony
- The End Of The World
- This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave