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Very Introspective Actually | Pet Shop Bots | tribute | review | goth | electro | Lollipop
Very Introspective, Actually
A Tribute to Pet Shop Boys (Dancing Ferret)
by Scott Hefflon
More accurately, Actually Introspective Behavior, Please (with a little Alternative Nightlife), though obviously that's clunkier.... I've always thought a Pet Shop Boys album shoulda been called Obviously.
"Hey, is that the new Pet Shop Boys record?
Surprisingly (there's another good album title... Too bad the gents are too busy reworking past hits to actually write more amazing songs and continue the titling tradition), I'm a huge Pet Shop Boys fan, and I've argued with many a rocker that they're not distant, limp-wristed Brit skippies with a knack for tousled hair, artsy-fartsy minimalistic covers, who write slick, sappy love songs for the brain-dead posers on the dance floor. I've always found them to be kinda eerie and detached, but then they slide in a lyric to let you know they have the know-how to finger your wound like they're looking for the bullet that narrowly missed your heart... Then again, this first-ever tribute collects quite an elite gathering of Goth and quiet indie icons, so the new generation of PSB appreciators will get the distilled essence without the distracting shimmer of pure '80s cheese pop. (Well, perhaps a Gothy version of '80s cheese pop - I'm referring to, like, Tears for Fears and Men Without Hats and just the really poofy pop tart ickiness I'm very thankful I can't remember much of.)
One of my favorite songs of all time - and inspiration, one might say - is "Opportunities (Let Make Lots of Money)" off Please. While this is not as bad as the cheap cover in Billionaire Boys Club (excuse me, has anyone seen my cred?), Fictional's cover is musically accurate, but vocally empty. Pet Shop Boys were amazing because they could make distant, "apathetic" vocals sound cool, whereas almost anyone else is just, um, "being boring." And not to get ahead of myself, but former Bauhaus/Love & Rockets star David J turns out a touching/humanly faltering acoustic version of "Being Boring," a song that, like The Church's "Under the Milky Way," chokes me up practically every time I hear it.
So let's start again at the top, shall we? The Crüxshadows open with the dance classic "It's a Sin," and while dance floors will be bum-rushed whenever this or the moving original are played, I'm spoiled because I've heard Gamma Ray's heavy metal cover. That may not mean much to New Wavers or Goths, but Gamma Ray is, to the uninitiated, a sharper, more modern version of, say, Iron Maiden's classic dualling guitars and powerful vocals, yet these days there are stacked harmonies, dive-bombing vocals and dramatic, powerful keys, and while, sure, it's all scraggly-hair metal dudes, anyone who's heard In Flames' cover of Depeche Mode's classic "Everything Counts" knows that some metal guys know their shit.
Following is Behind the Scene's cover of "Rent," a beautiful song then and now, and one that is covered so richly and smoothly, I gotta say, I think I may prefer this manly, Euro-intoned vocal to the "delicate" original. Next up is Human Drama's medieval take on "This Must Be the Place I've Waited Years to Leave." A little stuttering, like trying to speak when you're all choked up, but, like most of Behavior, the song's caress is like a brick painstakingly-wrapped in lace... And closing out the first third of the disc is Motormark's playfully junglized "Left to My Own Devices," the sole song from Introspective, probably the band's weakest album during their heyday. Aside from this song, their medley of "Always on My Mind/In My House" is really all that mattered... And while the medley is kinda slow to build up, the double-back-around to the Willie Nelson-popularized love song has a pull-out-all-the-stops closing few minutes that I consider practically the how-to on writing a moving pop song.
Kicking off the middle section is Endanger's fingersnapping, rich baritone cover of "Suburbia." Almost crooning at times, this kinda eerie late-night run through misty, tree-lined suburban streets could still be a youth anthem... I was, ya know, more into AC/DC when I used to "take a ride, run with the dogs tonight, in suburbia," and I get the feeling most suburban kids now are either drawing the tattoos they wanna get when they're old enough while listening to nü metal or rolling pennies to buy a different shade of hair dye while listening to Blink-182. But then again, well-written keyboard-based dance pop doesn't exist anymore (in the mainstream), so it's no wonder the kids listen to such shit... Following is Sweep's "Love Comes Quickly," a song that pre-dated Radiohead's tendency to skip into falsetto. This cover gets the panting keyboard part down, but the vocals are kinda Robert Smithy, and the digitizing of the formerly poignant "sooner or later, this happens to everyone... to everyone" is unforgivable. And I can live without Athan Maroulis & Zeitmahl lounging their way through "Heart" (as in "my heart starts missing a beat" - I couldn't place the song at first). But hot on its heels is Rhea's Obsession's percolating "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" which is quite haunting in a kinda Dead Can Dance way (the only vocals are the title and the "how'm I going to get through?" repeated minor and creepy with no answer or cheerful resolution in sight). Closing the second third is Icon of Coil's repetitive bass throb of "New York City Boy," the only song from '99's Nightlife (and with good reason). If you think of all the good groove established by Underworld and, I dunno, all the running scenes in Run Lola Run, you get where this'd like to be. Not bad, just nothing to grab onto...
Beginning afresh is indie diddler Momus and his light-samba Casio and under-his-breath vocals take on "So Hard" and, despite the way it sounds, it's quite nice. Because the tendency, as with Behavior's other "rockin' beat" song "Being Boring," is to soup-up the version, which is exactly the wrong thing to do with such glorious testaments to the difficulty of monogamous relationships. Following is "Jealousy," an achingly beautiful song that's repeatedly caused me to stare out the window unblinkingly until, um, my eyes, like, dry out and I need to blink repeatedly as my system overcompensates and tears well up... Hungry Lucy do a simple, touching cover, simply letting Christa Belle's gentle, trembling voice sing the words over the barely audible waves of rolling keyboards and subdued trip hop drumming. Nice... Quickly ruining the mood is Cleaner's generic industrial cover of "You Know Where You Went Wrong" from the b-side collection, '95's Alternative, which, to me, is a far worse title than the originally-planned title, Besides. Then again, I don't have this record, and if this repetitive piece of ignorable dance pap is any indication of what the rest is like, well, I guess there's a damn good reason for that. But regaining points for art-for-art's sake is Nicole Blackman & John Van Eaton's spoken/decontruction of the sugar pop chart-topper "West End Girls." I never liked that song and while this cover is about as useful as a horror movie playing on one side of the house and your roommates whispering behind closed doors on the other, I'm just glad it wasn't covered by some prancing New Wave rejects with spiky hair and lacey clothing. Closing is David J's acoustic version of "Being Boring" which I already mentioned.
Just shy of 70 minutes of dark, mostly good keyboard-heavy covers of great pop tunes by a band somehow able to combine devastatingly honest lyrics about love, loss, and failing relationships with sweeping, aching keyboard melodies and dance beats. There's a good reason why the Pet Shop Boys sold over 28 million records. If we can ever get past the vapid bubble gum boy bands and heaving breast ditzy blondes, perhaps dance pop can redeem itself once again with timeless musical statements.
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