Pet Shop Boys - Ultimate Pet Shop Boys
This is the Pet Shop Boys fourth compilation album (Discography, Pop Art, and one given away with the Daily Mail precede it) and it brings almost nothing to the table, being simply a sequential singles collection, along with solitary new track 'Together'. So why the high score, especially as musically, this isn't the Ultimate Pet Shop Boys collection - Pop Art served that better, particularly when it was initially bundled with the Remix disc?
Well, the songs on the CD are great, with the first half at least comprised of modern classics, but think of this not as a CD with a bonus DVD. Think of it as a DVD with a bonus hits CD, because it’s in the visual that this package proves its worth. Focusing on material culled from the BBC archive and their recent Glastonbury performance, it’s a reminder of what a visual band the Pet Shop Boys have ultimately become.
The BBC material is primarily culled from Top Of The Pops, and is therefore live only in the sense that the act were there in the studio (although the Release-era tracks sound live to me). The entertainment here is in the performance. While their first two appearance are fairly staid affairs, once we get to the Old Grey Whistle Test performance of 'Opportunities' – which is indeed live – they’re starting do more interesting things on stage– in that case with banks of monitors behind them showing sequencers. From that point, they’re making an effort – it starts small with Chris’s hats, lasers for a Wogan performance, a completely redundant brass section miming along to 'Domino Dancing' while Chris strums a keytar with all the conviction of a man who can’t hear what he’s supposed to be playing along to. But it builds – and by the time we hit the Very era, we find the boys in pointy hats and outfits on a set that Lady Gaga would condemn as ‘a bit ridiculous’, while Nightlife’s 'New York City Boy' sees them acknowledging their debt to the Village People in gloriously flamboyant fashion.
The Glastonbury performance – headlining the Other stage earlier in the year - is the same Es Devlin designed show as seen on the Pandemonium set that was released at the end of last year with added flags, fundamentally - and trust me - if you don’t think flags should be banned at festivals before you start watching this, you will by the end. Although it seems soon to release the same show again, there was nothing wrong with it- a hit-packed 90 minute live spectacle complete with multiple costume changes. There’s something gloriously ridiculous about the staging – from the boys coming on with boxes on their heads, right through to it closing with a mass singalong of 'West End Girls', featuring Chris Lowe with vegetation on his head, backing dancers spinning umbrellas and crab walking across the stage while Neil Tennant plays ringmaster. The sing-alongs are what make this a great document, both of the band and of the event, the Glastonbury choir in full voice is a force of nature, particularly as the show kicks into high gear on 'Suburbia' and their take on Coldplay’s 'Viva La Vida'.
The only thing missing here is a commentary – they provided an endlessly entertaining voiceover for their video collection DVD – it would have been fascinating to hear what they had to say about the circumstances surrounding their TV performances. As it is, it’s a great document of a 25 year career, culminating in the well deserved achivement that is headlining Glastonbury.