Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yes (2009)

For maybe 20 years now I've been in a kind of limbo with the Pet Shop Boys. I suspect most people still think of them as an '80s act, if not a one-hit wonder ("West End Girls," in spite of five more hits that followed in the US and many more internationally). I traveled deep into their catalog until approximately the 1996 album Bilingual, lingering very long and very hard on the Very Relentless package. I've always had a listen since then, even following the singles and B-sides and such (even that Battleship Potemkin thing), but little has ever insinuated itself again the way the work did of a golden period from 1987 to 1994. The closest I came was probably "The Night I Fell in Love," a brilliant shot across the bow to Eminem on the 2002 album Request, which I otherwise lost track of a week or two later. This pattern applied to Yes. When it came out I said Maybe and then the whole thing slipped my mind. So this is a story of one of those happy returns, a phenomenon I think I've seen with novels more than music. I try to read it, I try to read it, I try to read it—multiple attempts across years or even decades. Then one day I pick it up again and it's the best thing I've ever read. Yes is the best Pet Shop Boys album I've heard in a long time and just now I'm thinking the best of the 21st century.

This occurred to me a couple years ago, so the judgment has also turned out to be resilient. Is it really the upbeat positive note of the title? The music certainly pursues such avenues, albeit with their usual wryly detached irony. The opener, "Love etc." sets the tone, insisting you need love. The football chants on the chorus are relentless: "you need more you need more you need more you need more." I think they would find a way to make it say "sex" if that's what they meant. "All Over the World" follows on with a gorgeous takeoff that floats above the planet and marches into dignity accompanied by alien space gun sounds. It's beautiful and full of love etc.: "Exciting and new to say I want you." "Beautiful People," next, is not about the externality, though incapable of laying it on the "inner beauty" line. Still, that's what I hear in the chorus: "I want to live like beautiful people, give like beautiful people, with like beautiful people around." That sounds clannish and like Utopia at once. "Did You See Me Coming?" works because the arrogance of the title and play of the lyrics is belied by the ripening chest swoon of the melody, which somehow grows into a terribly sweet monster of sincerity. "Vulnerable" runs in place with the theme and may sound too much like a type of Pet Shop Boy song, i.e., product. Yet, for all that, the singer (as played, as usual, by Neil Tennant) is "so vulnerable," pleading his case. "More Than a Dream" might be long, but hits sweet spots of its own within the vibe. Even at their worst, the Pet Shop Boys are always at least as good as the pop Al Stewart, a firm floor for their entire career. "Building a Wall" is another song that may feel like reworking, but the twist on Brian Wilson's "In My Room" is fine: "not so much to keep you out, more to keep me in." Then "King of Rome" is more familiar territory ("My October Symphony," "To Speak Is a Sin," "The Samurai in Autumn"), but it's very beautiful territory. I could put down roots here—maybe I have. "Pandemonium" is a rave-up, standard issue, working to stoke the mood. If I'm really into it this is usually good for a minute or two of irresistible dancing with any cat handy.

The weakest songs follow, as if Pet Shop Boys Chris Lowe and Tennant were exhausted with the good times and/or already looking ahead. "The Way It Used to Be" and "Legacy" are the only songs here that pull some shades of self-pity around themselves, prefiguring Elysium. I still try to pay track sequencing some respects. At least there's the convenience that they're easily cut off when listening straight through. Otherwise, Yes tracks 1 to 9 are just the best thing going.

1 comment:

  1. "Love, etc" was a favorite that year for sure. And I think I'm closer to you than the people who say everything was downhill after Please. I'm sympathetic, if perhaps not entirely convinced, by arguments for Very. I loved "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing" and might call it their best dance club album. Behavior is probably the height of their "mainstream" imperial phase, though, and perhaps their best album. But I'm still of the mind they never did surpass the run of singles off those first three albums. "West End Girls," "What Have I Done To Deserve This," "Rent," etc.