By Jeff Walsh
Unless you're a serious Pet Shop Boys fan, Catalogue is overkill. Of course, just the notion that a band would have enough material to fill 300+ pages that largely showcase how they have managed their public image over a career spanning more than two decades is really worth a visit for anyone interested in music, celebrity, or fame.
For me, they always had interesting cover art and presentation to their music, but until I saw them live very late in the game, I never knew how manicured the whole thing was. On their 'Nightlife' tour, they did a very polished set, working the crowd, but never really breaking a sweat. It was initially a bit oft putting, but then again, they were also wearing odd, spiky-headed wigs at the time, too. But the more I watched, it dawned on me that a sense of detachment was always part of their magic. This wasn't a band that would treat a concert as a jubilant experience where there was a shared magic between them and the crowd (if they do, they certainly wouldn't let on). No band-led singalongs, big cheesy smiles when a familiar intro chords progression washed over us. Nope.
As I processed the show afterward, I realized I saw the only thing a Pet Shop Boys show could be, and I've then realized how image-conscious the band has been over the years. Most often delivering jubilant, upbeat, funny music, while looking serious, stern, and a bit dour.
"Catalogue" chronicles two decades of the band's creative output. Given the dance nature of their music, there have been remixes and B-sides galore, so much of the book is the artwork that accompanied every official release they ever put out, with commentary from the band about that particular moment in their career. The book caps off with an interview with the band that is exclusive to the book.
I don't need to tell people that a huge coffee-table book about the Pet Shop Boys is not for everybody. In fact, if it is something you're into, there's a good chance you already have it. But, I think anyone pursuing a career in music or visual arts of any kind, this is definitely worth getting your hands on somehow.
The Pet shop Boys, through their visuals representation as much as their music have accomplished something amazing, which is maintaining a signature style over an amazing length of time, constantly stretching the boundaries of that style, redefining themselves constantly, but never breaking it in the process.
It's an amazing achievement, and quite an amazing book as well.