Relentlessly reviewing their fifth album: that’s Very Pet Shop Boys

The seminal duo’s fifth studio set is also the first to be produced almost entirely by the duo themselves, with additional production and mix courtesy of their original Please helmsman Stephen Hague and further input from Brothers In Rhythm. It’s full of lush, richly textured melodies and fine sense of melodic flair. An upbeat revelation, then.

The first thing that hits you about Very is how colourful and plastic it is — and that’s just the packaging. The CD is enveloped in a bright orange case with knobbly bits, kind of like lego for the minimalist generation. Having said that, with an eye to hopefully claiming that long overdue first No.1 album, there’s a limited edition version in a tactile clear rubber wallet that contains a second dance disc called Relentless, which is essentially Chris Lowe’s chance to rave up his house credentials across half a dozen lengthy semi instrumentals, of which The Man Who Has Everything and Forever In Love are the hardcore highlights.

The ‘L’ word is a theme that crops up regularly on the album proper. Alternately blissfully happy or melancholy, there’s a warmer lyrical content compared to previous PSB albums, hinting at an emotional maturity and acknowledgment of relationships in a way that earlier cloak and dagger works shied away from. Liberation, with its romantic and richly instrumented Richard Niles arrangement would sound cloying and saccharine in anyone else’s hands but on Very there’s a touching sincerity to songs like this and the lush, beautifully elegiac Dreaming Of The Queen, a sombre piece of poetry which imagines talking tea with “the old Queen” and Princess Diana in the nude. Neil Tennant, that is, not the royal ladies, forgivably.

Seriously, the whole album sounds like it’s been double dipped in Tennant/Lowe’s jar of magical pop dust, and though it has lots of dancefloor-ready tunes (A Different Point Of View, One And One Make Five), there are some weighty lyrics, with the coruscating anti-Conservative overtones of The Theatre lambasting societal imbalances while mocking the bourgeoisie attending Pavarotti in the Park.

Expertly weaving between tongue-in-cheek humour and retrofitted fabulosity, the Motownish I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing has a beautiful simplicity to it; manic, rantastic Yesterday, When I Was Mad is a brilliantly bitchy swipe at pop life; while Eurobeat stomper One In A Million has a buoyant boyband quality to it, so much so that perhaps they should have given it to Take That.

But the album’s masterstrokes remain its bookends, with the pointed Can You Forgive Her? a clarion call to closeted youth, and a grandly flamboyant rendition of the Village People’s slightly iffy Go West playing us out in the disco. With its stirring Soviet style male choir, the latter doubles up as message to Europe’s slowly emerging Eastern Bloc countries to enjoy life’s more exuberant qualities, and is one of the most accessible PSB singles for aeons.

With its Powell and Pressburger-inspired stairway to heaven (half-inched from their David Niven vehicle A Matter Of Life And Death), Go West’s bizarrely affecting video fleshes this out even more than the song itself, but it’s still a stroke of genius to my ears – and Lowe’s moving mini tune — unlisted on the credits but I understand it’s referred to as Postscript — about believing in ecstasy that closes out the record proper is as much a statement of the purpose as the group could make at this particular time.

In 1993, I feel the same about Pet Shop Boys as I do about George Michael: in these more liberated times they seem to be getting camper and less guarded with each passing year. A public declaration on the cards? It must be obvious.

Steve Pafford

Reviewing 35 years of Pet Shop Boys albums from start to finish is here

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Steve Pafford
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