Initial thoughts on Winner B-sides

Following on from the disappointment I felt over Winner, I expected much more from the B-sides. Winner felt so characterless that I couldn’t believe it was actually a Pet Shop Boys song so I hoped that they would redeem themselves with its three B-sides. I have to say that from the two different sets of 30 second samples that have leaked for each B-side my initial fears about the album have been eradicated and it looks like Winner was just a blip. I obviously can’t post at great deal on three songs when I’ve only heard aproximentally a minute of each so for now these are just initial sets of thoughts on each

A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi.
I’d initially hoped (and predicted really) that Elysium’s lead single would be a very energetic and uptempo dance track, alias that didn’t quite work out. With a very slow taster track and a mid-tempo lead single I felt that one of the B-sides simply had to be much more dance floor oriented. A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi most certainly fits that bill! The track sounds incredibly catchy with a really infectious hook, it was written in 2007 initially and worked on again during Yes sessions. Much like their Yes album, its accessible but still undeniably Pet Shop Boys. I really struggle to make out the lyrics of the track though, particularly in the second sample. For now though, this sounds like its going to go right up there with Minimal (in this fan’s opinions at least) as being one of their best modern day dance tracks!


The Way Through The Woods
The next B-side is a much more experimental track. It’s actually an adaptation of the poem The Way Through the Woods which was written by Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book). This one originated during the Elysium sessions in LA. I have to say, if the production on Elysium is as good as the production here then working with Andrew Dawson was an inspired choice! The first 30 second sample I heard was purely instrumental and I loved the melody of it, it very much fitted the poem with the bird singing effects and the like. The music reminds me of something you’d get on their ballet soundtrack, The Most Incredible Thing which I think is a definite good thing as I really enjoyed the soundtrack. In the second sample you can get a much better sense of the track though as some of the vocals are in it, and it still sounds like a really interesting track, the sample cuts though just as it seems to get really going, the backing vocals sounded brilliant and then it cuts. Never the less, I read that the poem is essentially about the declining influence of religion, so it will be interesting to see what motivated them to re-adapt it!

I Started A Joke
The last one is a cover version of a Bee Gee’s song in tribute to Robin Gibb, who died earlier this year. I’ve always said that they have this brilliant ability of covering a song and making it sound like they originally done it, and I Starrted A Joke is maybe the finiest example of that. Not long after the B-sides were titled a friend showed me a link of Robin Gibb performing the song (which was beautiful) and its just the sort of song you could imagine them covering. It sounds like something you’d get on Release or Fundamental, but its a beautiful sounding ballad judging by the two samples. I have to give serious credit to Neil for the vocals here, even the two samples seem to suggest that this one of the best vocal performances he’s ever given. On that particular note, I think his voice maybe the best its ever been at the moment, as he sounded particularly good at the Wimbledon performance too. It’ll be interesting to see where they originally only going to do The Way Through The Woods and A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi as B-sides but then following Robins death add in an extra tribute B-side, or did they substitute I Started A Joke with something else, perhaps even they were planning this cover version all along?

All in all these are shaping up to be three brilliant B-sides and very possibly one of the best overall sets of B-sides that they’ve done! I think they’ve summed themselves up brilliantly with these three tracks: an energetic dance track, a more experimental piece and a lovely sounding ballad. Honestly, I think there’s something for everyone here. Those who were worried for Elysium on the basis of Winner need not worry I don’t think as these B-sides prove they’re still as creative as ever!

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Elysium interpretations: An update

So, in the last few days obviously the big news is that Elysium covers and track listing have been released, including confirmed release dates. I suppose now is the fun part is dissecting the song titles and hazarding a guess as to what the album will sound like. By their own admission in the latest issue of Literally, they have said that there’s elements of each album in the overall sound of Elysium, but the album it has most resonance with is Behavior. I’m excited and intrigued by that as Behavior is my favorite Pet Shop Boys album and if they make an album of similar quality then it could be special. The theme for the album is death, but they’ve also been quick to stress that its also uplifting. That correlates very well with their interview they did for Format, where Chris says that they always have a vision of making an album with mostly down tempo, melancholy stuff but then they realize that even they couldn’t listen to an albums worth of that. I think we can safely say that the album won’t be completely dark then. Some of the titles are very interesting, and the first two tracks: Leaving and Invisible, sound like they could tie in together in some way. The final track on the album; the ingeniously named Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin is an “elegy set to disco music” and by Neil’s own admission it sounds very beautiful. Its a tribute to a make-up artist, Lynne Easton, who worked with them and died in 2006. Interestingly, two of the tracks of this era were worked on during the Yes era: Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin was actually considered for inclusion on Yes but Brian Higgins (who produced the album) didn’t think much of it. The second track was A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi, which is one of the B-sides for Winner which was written in 2007, worked on again during Yes sessions and now is set for release. Neil has also said that one of the tracks on the album doesn’t sound too out of place on Please, and another rumor (although this hasn’t come from an official source) says that one of the tracks sounds quite Introspective/early 90’s Pet Shop Boys. The album draws on inspiration from every album they’ve ever done, I hope their comment with regards to that wasn’t too literal, as their albums are so different from each other that a hybrid of their various sounds on one album would sound messy. The initial reactions to the record though have proved very positive and I think it’s looking increasingly likely that Winner will not represent the sound of the record at all. In a way that actually ties back to Behavior really, after all So Hard was its lead single and look how much it stood out on that particular album. Another track that I am particularly looking forward to hear is Ego Music, which contains the chorus “Ego music, its all about me!”. Its a classic Pet Shop Boys theme and sounds very blunt, again much like How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously. I was disappointed with Winner but I have to say, Elysium sounds like its going to be very interesting, and I think we could be looking at a potential Pet Shop Boys classic if it lives up to the hype!

Winner (Official Video)

So, in the latest development the video for Winner has now been released. Honestly, I thought Winner was a let-down, but nothing could have prepared me for this one. In fairness, I like the message that the video is trying to convey, it very much reminds of the core theme for Red Letter Day, how ultimately we all want the same things in life. At the very least also, the video is about as far from the conventional Olympics montage (which I personally very much feared the video may be) which you could get. It depicts the story of Dirty Diana, a transgender who is part of a female roller derby team. The team eventually succeed but moreover this particular member also succeeds in being accepted. I can’t argue with the fact that not only is that a stark, risky even, angle to take on the theme of victory, but also a very positive message, so kudos for that. Having said that, I have a couple of grievances that really spoils the video and leaves me with an overall feeling of disappointment. First of all, the video is very similar in basic tone to that of She’s Madonna, the Robbie Williams collaboration which featured Pet Shop Boys. In She’s Madonna, Robbie takes on the role of a man in drag so there’s obviously strong links between the two videos. Another link is that Pet Shop Boys didn’t feature in that video and here, they are not in the video for a single frame, the first video they’ve ever made which hasn’t featured them at all in some form or another. That’s the killer blow for me here; a lead single for their new album, yet they didn’t even feature in their own video. I can’t help but wonder why that was the case. I have read some things that suggest that Winner wasn’t even meant to be the lead single and was changed last minute, having said that there’s nothing official confirming that did happen, but if that’s the case it may justify the lack of them actually appearing in their own video. Maybe not appearing in the video was some form of retaliation if such a conflict did arise, who knows? This is pure speculation on my part though, so I could be completely wrong. Another big downside is that there are parts of the video were various members of the team talk, but these overdub Neil’s actual singing, so you can’t actually hear the track properly, which is always a downside for me. It doesn’t allow the song to be properly heard, which isn’t exactly good promotion, and essential music video’s are just a promotion tool really. The video seems to be getting slated by fans even more so than Winner, which wasn’t exactly met with the warmest reception either. Its sad to see them get slated so much, but I think the criticism (of the more constructive and rational kind at least) is somewhat justified, its a tame lead single/video by their standards. Now, maybe more so than ever, the B-sides really need to deliver. As for the second single, if it isn’t a major return to form (and I really think they need an uptempo track) then I will seriously be worried for Elysium, as much as I hate to say it.

Literally finished so new book!

So I finished Literally, the book chronicling Pet Shop Boys first tour last night. I should have finished it a bit sooner if I’m honest, but a few days here and there of not reading slowed my progress down somewhat. What I won’t be finishing anytime soon though is my new book: The authorized biography of The Beatles by Hunter Davies. I’m 50 pages in already, astonishingly enough that’s still only the introduction, about another 30 pages to go until I come to the first chapter actually. Never the less though its become already clear that Hunter Davies clearly has a vast knowledge of The Beatles (this book was originally published in the late 60’s and has been updated) and their career, and I’m finding it a very interesting read. It will no doubt be a lot to digest though as I’m still researching their music, and other than the very basics that they come from Liverpool, that George and John are dead and so forth, I know little else about them in terms of contextual information. Still, very much looking forward to reading on and discovering more!

Disappointed, once more.

So yesterday I watched the live stream of Pet Shop Boys Afisha Picnic festival which they were headlining. I hate to be so negative, I honestly do, especially when it involves one of my favourite bands, but their performance tonight is just the latest in a string of disappointments in the whole way they have handled the start to their new album era. They just seem like they’re lacking in drive or something, I mean we’ve not actually seen them much at all, and when they do actually perform a concert they perform one from their last tour, which was supposed to be over when they played in Sydney for New Years Eve 2011. The actual show itself is one of the strongest tours they’ve ever done, and they sounded good today. My gripe though? The fact that there was utterly no change to the set list. At all. The stream quality (for me at least) was utterly poor, it didn’t actually start for me when it was the start of their set and as such, I entirely missed Heart and most of Did You See Me Coming. I spent the remainder of the show about three quarters of a song behind my friend who was streaming it as well. Going back to the lack of innovations, It just seems like such a weird thing to do considering the new album is out in just under two months, I mean they didn’t even perform Winner live or anything. Basically, I spent an hour and a half watching a low quality stream of a concert that I already own (and it didn’t even look so good either because despite them being the last act it was still pretty light, so their elaborate light shows and screens didn’t even stand out). The only new part for me (although they did perform it at Sydney) was Together. Considering that is one of my least favourite Pet Shop Boys songs though that offers little in the way of consolation. They didn’t have to do anything particularly over the top, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have made some change at least. I can’t help but feel they’ve made some very questionable decisions with this era. Personally, I think it feels like they’ve been very quiet or something and their lead single, Winner was an utter letdown. Its not even a patch on some of their weaker album tracks, let alone their best work (and there really isn’t any comparison to their B-sides, most of which surpass the tracks released on their studio albums). Their video premieres tomorrow, yet this hasn’t even been mentioned on their official site. Compared with The Killers Battle Born era which is just getting underway at the moment, and it really is a sad state of affairs. With The Killers recent comeback show after their hiatus, you could clearly see a band who were passionate and ready to make their comeback. With Pet Shop Boys in the last few months they seem to be acting like releasing a new album is very matter of fact for them. Which in a way is understandable, they met almost 31 years ago, and in their career together they have built up an impressive and incredibly consistent body of work by anyone’s standards. What I find sad though is that unfortunately they do not have that many albums left in them (they both are fast approaching 60 after all). The best they can do is at least put a bit of extra effort in, I mean I know they’ve been quick to criticise their disregard for promotion in the press, but Winner is completely devoid of just about any creativity and see’s them at their most conformist, and coming from two of the most overlooked and creative minds in pop music of the last 30 years (if not of all time), then that’s very sad to see indeed. Having finished Literally last night, were I discovered that their record company at the time didn’t actually want to release It’s Alright (which was released in the end), it struck me that Pet Shop Boys of old would never have been satisfied with Winner. They strike me at the moment as a band who have lost their drive to be different and stand out, the very same drive that resulted in their most accomplished work, and what attracted me to them in the first place.

The Killers return!

Every time a new Killers album is announced I do turn rather giddy, childish even with excitement as they were my first serious musical love. With that in mind, I was delighted to wake up this morning to the news that The Killers debuted some more new songs at their somewhat intimate concert last night in Asheville, North Carolina. They performed new single Runaways, The Rising Tide which was first performed live a year ago at Scala in London but the real treat for fans came in the form of Miss Atomic Bomb and Flesh and Bones. Miss Atomic Bomb sounds particularly good but both tracks are very strong I think. Honestly, I am so excited for this album, as each of the songs have impressed me, I think Brandon wasn’t exaggerating when he said that Battle Born was their best album yet! A full review of the gig will be in the coming issue of NME magazine which is out Wednesday, July 25 along with an interview with Brandon Flowers. Meanwhile, you can hear the new songs from last nights show by clicking HERE. Their full set list was as follows

Runaways
Somebody Told Me
Smile Like You Mean It
Spaceman
This Is Your Life
Rising Tide
Miss Atomic Bomb
For Reasons Unknown
Bling
Shadowplay
Human
A Dustland Fairytale
Read My Mind
Mr Brightside
All These Things That I’ve Done
Encore
Flesh and Bone
Jenny Was A Friend of Mine
When You Were Young

The Killers – Runaways

So after four years since their last album which was entitled Day & Age, The Killers have finally returned from their hiatus with their brand new single. Its been a hectic month for me musically, with the lead singles for both The Killers’ Battle Born album and Pet Shop Boys Elysium album being premiered (coincidentally, both albums are due to be released on the same day). Whilst Pet Shop Boys new single was a bit of a letdown I felt, Runaways is everything a lead single should be: its rousing, sounds unmistakably like a Killers song and grabs your attention. I would even go so far as to say it stands up with the best singles The Killers have ever released, if not being one of their best songs overall! After a rather lengthy hiatus they needed a strong song as their comeback and Runaways does that perfectly!  You can definitely hear the influences of Bruce Springsteen on the track also I think, and the opening piano chords and first verse melody also remind me a lot of Brandon Flowers solo record. At first, I thought it would be simplistic as it starts sparingly but it quickly builds and its easy to envisage this becoming a live staple not too far from the ranks of All These Things That I’ve Done. When the chorus finally kicks in around two minutes in, it just begs to be heard in a live context I feel. What I also personally love is that it mixes the very Americana-influenced Sam’s Town sound but also mixes in some synths (and I particularly love the synth work here) which echo’s songs like Human and Smile Like You Mean It. The arrangement goes perfectly with the lyrics of the song I think, which depicts a story of love gone wrong. People who are still stuck in their Hot Fuss era and who won’t accept any other sound will probably bash the song, although I struggle when you compare Somebody Told Me (even though its somewhat of a modern day classic) to Runaways and it becomes clear that the band have matured tremendously, and in my opinion for the better. The track seems to be getting incredibly positive reviews from critics and fans alike, all of which I feel is thoroughly deserved. If the rest of Battle Born is as strong (and the signs are good so far) then I think we could be looking at the strongest album from The Killers yet!

Winner.

So, the new single has been made available to fans for a few weeks now and I’ve listened to it multiple times. With that in mind, I think I’ve now developed enough of an opinion to warrant a proper post on the single, although please note that this post may change (and probably will) rather significantly once I get to hear Elysium, as hearing what themes are present on the album may cause me to change my initial interpretations, so this is sill very much a work in progress. As far as opinions go, I have to admit that this really wasn’t the attention grabbing lead single that I thought it would be and it feels like an unusually high amount of fans agree; I was expecting an upbeat dance track and I really think that was what they needed after they leaked Invisible (which was beautiful however). I think the biggest disappointment for me with Winner is that as things stand at the moment, it does feel like an Olympics cash in. Cashing in is something that I never expected from Pet Shop Boys, although that isn’t to say that the theme of the album is predominately upbeat and euphoric, in which case Winner fits in effortlessly. There’s nothing really about the track I could say I out rightly dislike, but it feels characterless. Lyrically, the song is simply about victory and celebrating achievement which does obviously fit in with the Olympic theme. In one way the lyrics are new territory for them: they’re simplistic for once with no hidden meaning (at this stage, although the album’s release may highlight some implicit reference that’s alluded me). Having said that, the lyrics do feel pretty ordinary too, there’s not even any wit that is present in so many of their tracks. In some ways that’s a good thing, its nice to have more simplistic tracks to balance out more experimental work like Invisible etc. I mean Heart is one of my favourite Pet Shop Boys songs but its almost without doubt their most straightforward love song. In some ways I think Pet Shop Boys have utilized cynical elements in their lyrics so much that once they leave those elements out, fans can feel like they’ve dumbed down or something. Simplistic lyrics don’t bother me in the least (a lot of the dance music I listen to has very little, and sometimes no lyrics whatsoever) as long as there is something else to compensate. With Heart, it had a brilliant dance beat and hook, but whilst Winner has a perfectly nice and inoffensive melody, compared to the likes of Being Boring’s melody it just feels ordinary. I could even live with the lyrics if it wasn’t for the fact that Neil’s voice on this (mainly due to the vocal effects) actually makes the lyrics sound rather miserable which completely goes against the whole theme of the track. The track has a feel of Release era about it, and considering that the theme (for now at least) is about victory doesn’t quite add up, I mean uplifting isn’t exactly the first word that springs to mind when you think of Release era Pet Shop Boys. Having said that, you could argue maybe what they are doing is totally mocking the whole overly zealous attitude, I mean on one hand its almost too over the top with the audience applauding sound effects etc. Maybe they’re meaning it to be ironic but we’ll not know for sure until September. It almost sounds like an X Factor winners single, which I personally find to be as dull and characterless as you could get. I still have high hopes for the album, but I really hope the second single will be a massive improvement. I think they need a dance floor oriented track for the next release!

Rock star roots.

I’ve just found out something rather interesting about Nirvana, whom I’m investigating at the minute. As it happens, it turns out that Kurt Cobain actually has roots in Northern Ireland, where I am from! As it turns out, the fifth generation of his family had the surname Cobane and lived in County Tyronne, before emigrating to Washington where Kurt himself would grow up. I can’t say that I actually live near Tyronne, I live on the other side of Northern Ireland actually, in the capital city of Belfast. Having said that, some members of my family do know people that share that same Cobane name. Never the less, this is a very interesting thing for me, and its making me excited about looking into their work further and seeing if I can find out a little more about it! I’ve also found some really good pictures and pieces of information about their gig in the Kings Hall in Belfast in 1992 which you can visit by clicking HERE (you’ll have to scroll down to get to the Belfast entry however). That site seems to be one of the most informative live chronologies of Nirvana, and one that I will definitely be making frequent visits too as I investigate their work further!

TOTP, but not quite.

Was watching yet another old TOTP show (can you tell I like to watch such things?) from 1977. I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy that many of the songs on this particular episode bar this one which I’m sharing – The Jacksons – Show You The Way To Go. I’ve always really loved this song, one of their finest I think! For some reason the performance wasn’t actually an actual Top Of The Pops performance, rather they showed a performance from The Jacksons Variety Show from CBS instead, honestly though, I can’t say why this is. I mean, they did perform the track on TOTP definitely once (and I think it might have been twice if memory serves me), so that’s a little odd. Never the less, this is a brilliant clip!