Well the time for Fundamental, the 9th studio album, from the Pet Shop Boys is nearly upon us. So what better time to bring back that old "lists" phase I went through a while back and give my definative ranking of the PSB studio album cannon.
8. Release (2002)
There is no such thing as a bad PSB album (Disco 2 notwithstanding) but this was a disappointment. Really when a band changes their longstanding sound as fundamentally as the boys did here, the results have to be spectacular to be successful, and this falls well short of spectacular. Some have labelled this as "PSB chanelling the Smiths", although this may have more to do with the guitar playing guest Johnny Marr than any other concern. There are a number of highlights to treasure though; Home and Dry is good, as it the almost Oasis-lite I Get Along. The irony is that the standout track, Here, is the most true to the old PSB ethos. But really there is no excuse for Love Is A Catastrophe or Birthday Boy which have to be two of the worst PSB tracks ever.
7. Nightlife (1998)
Bring along some hip dance producers to help out and you have the simultaneous effect of producing both the most "modern" album in the PSB canon, and also the one that bears least repeated listenings. The sad thing is that from tracks 1 to 7, this is shaping up to be a classic Pet Shop Boys album but from thereon in it's a slippy ride into mediocrity. I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Anymore and You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk are two of the best post-Discography singles by the boys and Radiophonic has to be one of the best singles-that-never-were in the PSB catalogue. But Boy Strange reminds you of David Bowie at his worst, In Denial has to be the most cringeworthy songs ever (made even worse by the fact it features Kylie) and New York City Boy is camp nonsense that really should never have seen the light of day. And now, eight years on, the whole thing sounds outdated and really hasn't aged all that well.
6. Bilingual (1995)
Much like the album that followed it, this is very much a tale of two halves. The first five tracks are all very good but the album doesn't follow these up with anything that matches them. Although thankfully it doesn't descend into the mire in quite the same way that Nightlife does. In Se A Vida E and Before the album has two quite wonderful, but different from the expected, PSB singles, and despite a lot of people thinking otherwise, I've always enjoyed the likes of Metamorphosis and To Step Aside. But Red Letter Day may well be the worst single the boys have ever released and Up Against It and The Survivors are exactly the kind of drivel you'd least expect from the PSB.
5. Introspective (1988)
It may only be six songs long (or short) but those six songs pack in more fantastic pop than many artists do in a whole career. True I've never cared for the basic version of Left To My Own Devices on here, and I've never really liked It's Alright, but in I'm Not Scared, Domino Dancing, I Want a Dog and Always On My Mind you've ample examples of what Neil Tennant described as the PSB "imperial" phase.
4. Please (1986)
The debut, and whilst most people would only remember West End Girls and the fantastic, but often very misunderstood Opportunities, there is a lot more to reccommend on here than just those. Love Comes Quickly is a gorgeous synth ballad and remains one of the most criminally underated PSB songs they've done and tracks like I Want A Lover and Why Don't We Live Together are still wonderful to this day. The only blot on the album is Suburbia, a song I've never really liked and one which on the album manages to be worse than the souped-up single version that was subequently released.
3. Behaviour (1990)
The critical masterpiece, but the commercial disappointment. It's certainly a mile away from the over-the-top pomposity of the likes of It's A Sin, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve the many plaudits it's received. Being Boring is perhaps the finest PSB song there is but it's far from the only highlight on this superb album. My particular favourites would include The End Of The World, To Face The Truth and So Hard. The one "fast-forward" moment for me would be My October Symphony but the rest of it is pure gold.
2. Actually (1987)
What's not to like about this one. Three top two hits (It's A Sin, What Have I Done To Deserve This? and Heart), a further top ten hit (Rent) and some of the best PSB album tracks (Kings Cross, One More Chance and It Couldn't Happen Here) in existance. There isn't a duff moment on here and its easy to see why with this release that PSB could, at the time, conceivably be seen as one of the biggest Pop act's in the world.
1. Very (1993)
So it may be a slightly controversial choice, but this is my list damn it. I suppose in a way I will always have a fond memory of Very because it was the first PSB album where I was an avid fan of the boys as it came out. But really this remains my favourite because no matter how many times I hear it I have no trouble listening to it from start to finish without skipping a thing. Can You Forgive Her combines two classic PSB traits of over-the-top production and biting, but hilaroius, lyrics. Go West may be camp, but its also fantastically catchy. In fact I really can't pick a duff tune from this collection either.
Just for the sake of it, I'll pass comment on a few other PSB albums and bits & pieces.
Pop Art is definately the better deal than Discography, simply because you've twice the amount of classic songs, even more so if you get the three disc collection with the bonus "mix" cd. Although I must admit that Discography is in one sense slighty the better as it contains fewer "duff" tracks. As far as the Disco series goes, 1 was brilliant, 2 was god damn awful and 3 was somewhere in between. Alternative, their B-sides collection, is better than most artists could come up with for a singles collection. Relentless (the "dance" music bonus album which came with some copies of Very is also superb. All the Further Listening collections that came with the album reissues in 2001 have their moments, but are more for the avid fan than the curious observer. The OST to their musical Closer To Heaven is one for the completist only, as is the Battleship Potempkin soundtrack (although that is the better of the two).