Friendly Fires – Why Don’t You Answer?

Also, in the last few days Friendly Fires have released a new track, to promote their entry in the series Late Night Tales. For those who are maybe unfamiliar with that series, essentially an artist is given the chance to compile various tracks from their record collections to create a mix which they feel is at its most effective to listen to at night. Many electronic artists have entries in the series like MGMT, Metronomy and Groove Armada. It’s also a traditional feature for artists to record a cover of a song exclusively for their set, hence why we have Why Don’t You Answer. The original of Why Don’t You Answer was by Eberhard Schoener with Sting on lead vocals and it was released in 1978. I have to say I really like the original although in some ways I think Friendly Fires version brings out more of the intended feeling of the song. In many ways I think Why Don’t You Answer embodies the main objective of the Late Night Tales series. It has this dark and moody atmosphere to it and it just feels like something you’d listen to late at night, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculous. Its a stark change in direction for Friendly Fires, and it’s growing on me with each listen. The change in sound is just highlighted when you compare the sound here to their excellent sophomore album, 2011’s Pala. Pala has an exuberant and heady disco oriented dance-pop sound whereas Why Don’t You Answer see’s them going in a much more experimental and darker direction. What I think makes the track is its deep bass-line, it adds a very dark layer to the track. The bass-line does sound fundamentally quite disco to me but its almost like they’ve taken their usual disco flourishes and approached it from a very different and morbid sounding angle. I guess I’d describe Why Don’t You Answer as dark disco really. The lyrics of the song are as simple as the title suggest, the narrator is torturing themselves that their lover hasn’t called. I think the lyrics suit Ed McFarlane’s voice very well really. The constant stuttering synthesizer just makes the song sound rather haunting too I think. Its strange, because I’m enjoying this song more and more with every listen but I do prefer more traditional sounding Friendly Fires material. I’m not sure if I could take a whole album of songs in this vein. I’ve been left worried for Friendly Fires upcoming studio album, which I hope is released sometime next year after reading reports that they’re looking to go down the experimental route with their third offering. Whilst artistic development is key I don’t know if they shouldn’t change what isn’t broke. Pala is one of the best albums I’ve heard in recent times. Having said that, Why Don’t You Answer? is a most interesting song that proves that maybe, just maybe they’d pull off an experimental electronic album better than I’d ever thought.

Initial thoughts on Crystal Castles – (III)

So in the last week or so Crystal Castles have released their third album, called (III). Despite the album gaining some very positive reviews I have to say that I’ve been left rather disappointed with the new album though. As much as I do like Crystal Castles I guess I would be lying if I said they were one of my favourite groups. Although I do really like their first and second albums their low-points for me are so low that it makes me dock them a few places if I were to do a list of my favourite artists. With (III) though I just can’t get into it at all. Very few of the songs are standing out to me at the moment I’m afraid. Many of the songs are laden with chimp-punk sounding vocals which I find really annoying and many of the songs have a very glitchy feel. Crystal Castles have always had a very chaotic 8bit sound but at least on the previous two albums melody was still prevalent. Here though for me there seems to be a distinct lack of any real melody on many of the tracks Some of the songs I feel have the potential to be enjoyable to listen to – like Plague or Telepath – but the various effects that are present in many of them just kill my enjoyment stone dead. For me, the only three tracks that I can say I really enjoy at present are Wrath of God, Sad Eyes and Child I Will Hurt You. I’m sorry to say that the rest of the tracks though either leave me with no emotion whatsoever or reaching for the skip button. The album does have a focused sound, I can’t fault it for that, but really a lot of it just sounds very samey to me. Maybe Crystal Castles will be one of those groups that I will always have a kind of love/hate relationship with. I fully understand the album is meant to have a vast and bleak sort of atmosphere but for me it feels like a lot of the screamy chipmunk voices were employed to cover the fact that under the surface the album really isn’t anything to write home about. I had enjoyed the lead single of the album so much and I thought that it was going to be brilliant, but sadly so far I’ve been left bitterly disappointed with their third offering. I guess if your into more harsher/darker electronic music you may love it, but as this listener isn’t its left me with no choice to say that its one of the most disappointing albums I’ve heard in recent memory. If my opinions change I will of course post an update, but for the moment I can’t see me enjoying this album anymore. Sorry!

You Know Where You Went Wrong

I just love this song, for me it could be one of their best ever! I’ve no idea why, but from the first time I listened to Alternative, this has always been an absolute favourite of mine. It was the B-side to It’s A Sin and if I’m honest, I think I far prefer the B-side to the A-side in this particular case! This was one of the tracks that Pet Shop Boys worked on with the legendary Shep Pettibone. Initially, Shep Pettibone had been trying to encourage them to do another song in the vein of West End Girls, one were the lyrics are spoken as opposed to sung because in America their way of doing that proved popular. Initially it did sound a bit like West End Girls. If you listen to the demo the lyrics are spoken rather than sung and it definitely has more of a rap kind of feel. Chris wasn’t so fond of this rap sound though and as such suggest a vocal melody for Neil to sing, and that’s what you hear in the final version. Also to further the connections with West End Girls, the same backing singer that sang on West End Girls – Helena Springs – sings on the track. Chris has stated that he feels that she sings the best parts of the song and I’m close to agreeing with him really. Maybe it’s just me but I do think the song carries a similar atmosphere to the one that West End Girls has; both of them conjure up images in my head of desolation but I think that’s down to the music more than the lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, You Know Where You Went Wrong isn’t the most complicated set of lyrics Pet Shop Boys have written. Essentially, each verse is just a different example of someone saying “You know where you went wrong” its really not anymore complicated than that. The idea for the lyrics actually took place a year before the song was written. Whilst walking through Covent Garden in London a year before the track was written, Chris happened to see two tramps in a doorway. One turned to the other and said “You know where you went wrong”, as depicted in the first verse. It was the kind of thing that Pet Shop Boys found amusing and they never forgot the story, and the song was written a year later. The track apparently spent considerable time in the developmental stages before it was finally completed.You can definitely tell I think. It has a polished sound but it still feels natural which is a good balance. I think it succinctly combines the sounds of their first and second albums. It has the raw feeling of Please combined with an overall more polished sound that’s akin to Actually. Two versions of the song have been officially released. The version that appears on Alternative and is the most common version, but also the Rough Mix which can be found on promotional vinyl releases for It’s A Sin. I have to say that the Rough Mix I do find quite inferior to the more commonly known version. Its a shame this wasn’t on Actually because I think it has a desolate atmosphere that you can find on other tracks on the album such as Kings Cross and It Couldn’t Happen Here. A great song that deserves more attention!

Liberation (E-Smoove 12" mix)

In all seriousness, this has to be one of the absolute weirdest remixes – if not pieces of music in general – I have ever heard. One of the official remixes commissioned for Liberation. It was one of the mixes found on Disco 2 (although on that album its sped up and thus it sounds quite different). The only place to obtain the original unedited 12″ E-smoove mix is on CD 1 of the Liberation CD single (The one with the orange spinning top cover as opposed to the blue).  Its one of the most infamous Pet Shop Boys remixes amongst fans or those that spend considerable time listening to remixes of Pet Shop Boys tracks. The reason for this is simple: it contains no discernible element of the original track at all. If you were to listen to the 7″ edit of the single its a different matter though as the original verses can be heard on that particular edit. On the 12″ however, there’s absolutely no trace of the original version of Liberation. Its certainly… gutsy to say the least. Not least because Liberation remains a firm fan and critic favourite. Its the most extreme element of something that can really annoy me about remixes – I don’t like when they are so far removed from the original that they loose just what made the original so good. Or nearly just as annoyingly, they just contain repetitive vocal samples from the original track. Both those criticisms of remixes I’ve just mentioned seems to be the case with a lot of the remixes from the Very era. Don’t get me wrong – the album is my joint favourite Pet Shop Boys album – but the remixes of the era left a lot to be desired I felt. Also, I get that remixes obviously have to be different from the original versions, but this honestly sounds like it could pass as an entirely new piece of music. As a stand-alone track, I quite like it but its hard to look at this as a serious remix. There’s just no element of the original there whatsoever. I do much prefer the original to this by an absolute landslide too. Honestly though, I think Liberation is one of those songs that is verging on the impossible to remix. There’s not lot of ways the track can be furthered (I’m struggling to think of any ways it can be at all really) and for me, the track just sounds finished and fine as is. I’m struggling to think of my concluding statement for this post really – I prefer the 12″ as a stand alone piece of music, but as a remix then I have to say the 7″ is superior because there’s at least elements of the original piece in the track. I can’t say I think the 7″ is a great remix at all though even still. These are peculiar Pet Shop Boys remixes, most definitely!

Being Remixed

One of the more unusual single releases in their discography, for sure. Its a remix ep of Being Boring and its respective B-side, We All Feel Better In The Dark. As you can imagine, the tracks here are few and far between, only three in total actually. These are:

  1. Being Boring (Marshall Jefferson Remix)
  2. We All Feel Better In The Dark (After Hours Climax)
  3. We All Feel Better In The Dark (Ambient mix)

All three of these mixes are relatively hard to obtain, with the After Hours Climax mix being an exclusive to this set. I know some of you may be wondering how can that be, after all on Disco 2 there same mix is there, right? Not quite, as the information on Disco 2 is actually incorrect. Disco 2 has a mistake on the labelling of the tracks – the mix of We All Feel Better In The Dark is actually the Ambient Mix as oppossed to the After Hours Climax mix. Here though, both mixes are present and labelled correctly. If I’m honest, I prefer the Ambient Mix to the After Hours Climax but both are still good. I also really like the third mix here, which sees house music legend Marshall Jefferson (who co-wrote It’s Alright with Sterling Void which Pet Shop Boys covered). He gives Being Boring a dance atmosphere without killing off any emotion conveyed in the original track. Generally though, I think the Behaviour period was overall the best era of Pet Shop Boys in terms of remixes, so many of the remixes of this era are puer gold. This is coming from someone who can be difficult to impress when it comes to remixes too! The Being Remixed ep seems to be very scarce to find though. According to the very reliable Discogs site it was released as a 12″ in the UK (but not as a CD single for some strange reason apparently). It was also released on CD and 12″ formats on Germany but according to Discogs it was released in no other country. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of that but I’m pretty sure that its accurate – the vinyl on Amazon Marketplace is £4 used but the CD is £18 which tends to be how much imported releases cost there. No matter what, I think we can safely say this is definitely not the easiest Pet Shop Boys release to find. A shame really, as for the more serious collector this is an interesting listen!

    Pet Shop Boys in David Bowie show

    Last night I stayed up a little bit later than usual to watch The Genius of David Bowie. It was a very interesting show – perfect for someone like me who is developing an interest in David Bowie without knowing an awful lot about his work. It was mainly performances from TV shows mixed in with songs by other artists that he had worked on and the like. It taught me quite a bit of factual information too that I found quite fascinating. It was also very nice to see Pet Shop Boys feature on the show. Their performance together of Hallo Spaceboy (Pet Shop Boys single mix, obviously) from Top Of The Pops was featured. I do love that remix so it was very nice to see them featured. Both avid Bowie fans (Neil even met him in 1972 if memory serves me) I can only imagine how thrilled they were to work with him!

    Creation Records documentary

    So a few days ago I decided to watch this, Upside Down: The Creation Records story. It was a very interesting documentary! If not already obvious, I tend to have a thing for record labels (anyone who knows me knows that I am besotted with all things Factory related). Creation reminds me a little bit of Factory in a way really for some strange reason. The two do have some links too in a tenuous way, that are touched upon in the documentary. Anyhow, this documentary was both thought provoking and moving in places, especially towards the end. It featured many contributions from some of the key bands of the label, such as Oasis, Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain. There were some surprises too; Peter Hook from New Order had a rather entertaining brief appearance, and for whatever reason The Divine Comedy were in it. Why that is though, I have no idea. They weren’t an act on Creation to the best of my knowledge. Anyhow, this documentary might only be of real interest if you are self-confessed music geek (as I am) but if that’s you – or you have an interest in indie music (especially 80’s indie music) then its very much worth a watch!

    Disco

    The cover for Disco is a still of Chris from the Paninaro video.

    Remix albums were practically standard practice with many electronic artists in the 80’s, such examples of said albums include Soft Cell’s Non Stop Estatic Dancing and The Human League’s Love and Dancing. With that in mind, Pet Shop Boys released their first foray into remix albums, entitled Disco, on November 15th 1986. I have to say I think that Disco is one of the best remix albums of its era! The title was a reaction against the usual stereotypes (unfair ones, I think) that the word disco brought up: that it was shallow music devoid of any real depth or substance.

    Disco was released in between albums: only their debut album Please was released and second album Actually would be released in the following year. As a consequence, all of the tracks on Disco are the singles from Please with the edition of two B-sides. There are also some very prolific peple at the helm of the remixes, such as Arthur Baker and Shep Pettibone. The full tracklisting for Disco is as follows:

    1.  In The Night (Arthur Baker’s extended mix)
    2. Suburbia (Julian Mendelssohn’s Full Horror mix)
    3. Oppurtunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) (Ron Dean Miller and Latin Rascals’ Version Latina)
    4. Paninaro (Pet Shop Boys and David Jacob’s Italian Mix)
    5. Love Comes Quickly (Shep Pettibones Mastermix)
    6. West End Girls  (Shep Pettibones Disco Mix)

     Whether it was a conscious decision or not, I really love how they’ve chosen their most complex and interesting songs from the Please era. It just adds to the slightly rebellious stance they took by naming the album Disco in the first place, as many of the songs on offer here still stand up as some of the most intelligent and forward thinking pop music of their time. A particular example in that regard is Oppurtunities (Lets Make Lots of Money), a song which many people took in completely the wrong way.

    The album is short on tracks (although all of these tracks are over five minutes in length with some closer to nine.) but each of these mixes are really enjoyable to listen to. The only one I struggle with really is the Paninaro remix, purely because I don’t really enjoy even the original 7″ of the song very much so an extended version was never going to overly impress me. There’s nothing actually wrong with the mix, its just I’m definitely more a fan of the 1995 version. I enjoy all the other remixes though, with my favorites being the remixes of In The Night, West End Girls and Opportunities. If I’m honest with you the remix of Opportunities here is probably my favourite version of the song and I’m having hard time deciding which mix of In The Night I prefer!

    All in all Disco is neck and neck with Disco 3 as my favorite in the series. These Disco albums have become a mini series (currently a quartet of them but the forthcoming dance album set for release in 2013 could turn out to be Disco 5.) Having said that, the sequels to Disco would verge away from the traditional remix album format (in true Pet Shop Boys style) and as such its only the original Disco that you can call a remix album in the traditional sense. What I especially love about this remix album is that the remixers have done anything but make these mixes stereotypical 80’s fodder. The remixes have aged very well I find. Also, they’ve managed to take each of the songs in interesting directions away from the originals, to the point were Disco has a cohesion rarely felt with remix albums. It actually all comes together and feels like you are listening to a full studio album, its probably the only remix album I can say that about really. Typically fans of 80’s extended mixes feel that Disco stands up as one of the best examples of the genre and I’d have to agree. A great remix album that is highly recommended!

    Liza Minnelli – If there was love

    So lately I’ve been delving into a lesser known area of Pet Shop Boys work – their production work. I’ve been particularly listening to two albums; Dusty Springfield’s Reputation and Liza Minnelli’s Results. I’ve really surprised myself at how much I’ve enjoyed both and Results is fast becoming a particular favorite of mine! The pinnacle of the album for me though I think is this track – If There Was Love. This is one of the tracks that was specifically written and recorded for Results. It’s very typical Pet Shop Boys in style I think, it sounds very much like their Introspective era. The arrangement is dance oriented in a way, but it is executed in a very subtle manner. Its definitely got a softer arrangement than Loosing My Mind for instance. Lyrically, the song is very bleak, one of the bleakest sets of lyrics in the entirety of Pet Shop Boys really. The lyrics are utterly paranoid in terms of tone, its as if the narrator feels the world is in nothing but a mess, to the point were they’ve become disillusioned with it. Indeed they ponder if love really is enough to fix these problems. They’ve become so disillusioned though that they do even question does love exist to begin with – after all they ask if love exists rather than state its existence as a matter of fact. The lyrics do leave a lot to the reader though – despite asking in the chorus whether or not love is indeed enough to combat the worlds problems no answer is given, so we don’t know the narrators view on the subject. Also, the recital at the end of the track is of Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 94. It goes very well with the track I think. Essentially, the sonnet states that those who acquire power and then abuse their position and essentially turn into bad people are far more condemnable than those who never were particularly great or pleasant to begin with. Personally, I wonder if the song is implicitly directed at politicians who get into power and then don’t deliver but I could be clutching at straws there. The inclusion of the sonnet was a spontaneous one – one day Neil was searching through various sonnets and the like to find something to read at a friends funeral (the same funeral depicted in Pet Shop Boys b-side Your Funny Uncle) whilst a playback of If There Was Love was on. He came across Sonnet 94 and voila. Personally, I think the song has a message that still holds up some relevance today. Living in the place that I do, and hearing so much horrible stuff about the political conflict here, its a song that makes me think. Northern Ireland is so much better to live in but sometimes things happen and it makes me wonder will the conflict ever completely end. Anyhow, back to the song itself. I think this is a great track, to the point were I would love to hear Pet Shop Boys own version if it exists. Considering that they did record demos for other tracks on Results, like So Sorry I Said its entirely plausible they do have a version of this lingering around in the vaults. Even if they don’t, they could always revisit it and re-record it, like they did with In Private. In any case, an excellent song that’s as strong as Pet Shop Boys own recordings!

    Memory of The Future 7" Announced!

    Promo release artwork.

    So in an exciting news development last night, the 7″ single mix of Memory For The Future was unveiled. Interestingly, they have decided to use the already confirmed mix of the track that was made by Stuart Price as the single edit! I absolutely love Stuart Price as a producer, he has worked with a wide range of artists from Madonna to The Killers. I think the album he produced with Madonna, Confessions on A Dancefloor was her last truly great studio album. He also mixed the live CD for Pet Shop Boys very own Pandemonium CD/DVD set too. Honestly, if I were able to choose the producer for their next album Stuart Price would almost certainly be my choice. With that in mind I had high hopes for the 7″ mix and I don’t think it has disappointed me! Its much more bouncy and fluid than the album version I think, but it makes sense. To be honest, I’m not sure if the Elysium version – as good as it is – was all that commercially viable. With the 7″ version its more poppy and no doubt it was remixed in an attempt to actually crack the Top 40 with their third single. Having said that, in no way does it sound too commercial, the new mix keeps all the integrity and merit of the original but its just been given a poppier lease of life.I can see myself playing both mixes regularly in the long run if I’m honest. It definitely sounds like it could do well in the charts too, but whether or not it does is another case entirely. I think they need to come up with a really good video for it if they want to make it into a hit because I haven’t been impressed with Winner or Leaving’s official music videos really. It has also been announced that it will be released on 31st December, with details on release formats, bonus tracks and remixes to be on the site soon. In any case, this is a great mix of one of the best songs on Elysium, here’s hoping the B-sides will be just as good!