Pet Shop Boys - Ultimate Pet Shop Boys

This is a document of what genius can do.

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It’s been a startling 29 years since the Pet Shop Boys formed. Go back a further 29 years and there was no rock’n’roll. While this speaks volumes about the furious pace of musical change in the 60s and 70s – the chasm between, say, Bill Haley and the Pet Shop Boys dwarfs the jump from PSBs to Hot Chip – it’s just as telling that the Pet Shop Boys’ songs, particularly those from the 80s, sound so fresh in 2010. Sure, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were ahead of the pack in any number of smart, melodic and technological ways, but what’s more significant is how pervasive their influence remains. Scratch any arch synth act – from La Roux to Hurts and all Fischerspooners in between – and you’ll find a shade of Neil and Chris underneath.

‘Ultimate Pet Shop Boys’ comes at another juncture, 25 years since ‘West End Girls’ gave them their first No.1 hit. There’s also a new single ‘Together’ attached and, in its deluxe form, the set comes with an exhaustive DVD of TV appearances and this year’s triumphant Glastonbury show. A pretty bundle but, as a third greatest hits, a bit of a stretch. Still, whatever the quibbles about motivation, there isn’t too much wrong with the rest of the package.

It’s still a thrill to hear that simple ‘West End Girls’ bass signature, ‘Suburbia’ rattles along with sirens blaring,‘It’s A Sin’ remains one of the more dramatic five minutes yet set to vinyl – and if there’s a more perfect minute in 80s pop than the full synth horn riff on the second bridge of ‘What Have I Have To Deserve This?’ dissolving into Dusty’s loosened up chorus, then it’s well hidden. Just think, these gems all came in the first two years of the PSBs’ chart career, and ‘Rent’ and ‘Opportunities’ aren’t even included. Who else has enjoyed this sort of purple patch? Blondie? The Beatles? Worthy company anyway. And equally stunning stuff was still to come in the astonishing symphony of ‘Left To My Own Devices’, the poignant, grimly celebratory ‘Being Boring’ and the cheeky – if slyly reverent? – ‘Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)’. In less deft hands, that might have got up a few rockist noses, but Tennant and Lowe were nigh on untouchable.

There seems to be a tipping point with 1993’s ‘Go West’, which needs its on-message video to rise above mere camp. After that, the Pet Shop Boys lost some sparkle; ‘Se A Vida É’ is jolly enough, ‘Before’ pleasantly burbling, but ‘New York City Boy’ is froth without real fun and ‘Home And Dry’ limp in this company.

And now? Last year’s ‘Love Etc.’ flexed some boisterous muscle which hasn’t really carried over to ‘Together’’s slightly cheap rave synths. There’s still some steam, but the Pet Shop Boys’ well of inspiration appears largely dry, and we can assume that the true glory days are long gone. Such glory though. Now so many singles are reduced commodities, promotional fillips chucked out for free, it’s unlikely we’ll see a majestic run of form like the Pet Shop Boys’ first dozen 45s again. This is a document of what genius can do.