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It Was 12 Years Ago Today: Pet Shop Boys, Concrete album review

Double live set plus star guests and BBC Concert Orchestra

Renowned for ground-breaking costume extravaganzas and pointy hats a-plenty, a live album from the seminal synth duo is a surprising move. But with the usual high-disco display replaced by a stage so full of musicians that it threatened to outnumber the invited audience, the result is the PSB’s most accomplished record to date, actually.

Tasty triumvirate of Left To My Own Devices, It’s A Sin and West End Girls excepted, this one-off London show is no greatest hits Pets set, and it’s gratifying to hear how well suited lesser known Tennant/Lowe compositions are to dramatic orchestral interpretation.

Dreaming Of The Queen is appropriately grand, adding a majestic new dimension to an elegantly elegiac tale of taking tea with the monarch, Diana and a nude Neil Tennant (so this show is indeed preferable without the visuals, then), while the saucy Sodom & Gommorah Show and impressively instant Integral sound even more powerful than on the recent Fundamental opus, the latter’s soaring dystopian drama a real highlight – high praise given the stellar standard of these interpretations.

Current single Numb (“the one the BBC used when England exited the World Cup”) is exceptionally epic. Likewise the arrangement of Rent, scored by Angelo Badalamenti for Liza Minnelli, is as brilliantly brassy as the Cabaret singer herself.

Elsewhere Judy Garland wanabee, Rufus Wainwright, makes Casanova In Hell his own. While Friendly Fire, competently tackled by Frances Barber, is by far the best song about David Bowie the Thin White Dame never recorded himself. Though he really should.

Robbie Williams does fluff his way through Jealousy, though he’s counterbalanced by Tennant’s delightful thespian theatrics during its Shakespearean prelude. All in all a coruscating and irresistible tour de force.

4 stars 4 stars 4 stars 4 stars

Steve Pafford

First published: Record Collector, December 2006

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