Pet Shop Boys, Pop Art: The Hits: CD Review

By Jeff Walsh

The Pet Shop Boys is one of my foundation bands. There are moments where their music is clearly fixed in the events of my life. I remember when the gay bar I used to frequent played "Go West," their exuberant cover of the Village People classic, as its closing music very night. The dance floor became a celebration with everyone becoming a community, singing and smiling in a small Pennsylvania town where this wasn't a constant state. I can look back on many moments like this and find a Pet Shop Boys providing the score.

More recently, I was at a club in San Francisco, and heard only one or two chords, and knew I was in the hands of The Pet Shop Boys. Over the years, they have developed such a unique, distinctive sound that somehow immediately identifies them but never seems to restrict them. But the thing I noticed most when I heard the chord is how happy it made me. I didn't know the song, the words, the chorus, the bridge... but just it being The Pet Shop Boys was enough to make me smile and radiate happiness. I can't honestly think of another band that has that effect on me. In this case, though, I was only half right. It was the Pet Shop Boys remix of Madonna's "Sorry." This month, their remix of The Killers' "Can You Read My Mind" is also coming out.

They're also the only band that can make dance versions of Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind," as well as a medley of U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name" mashing it up with Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" and somehow pull it off. They can release an entire album ("Bilingual") featuring Latin rhythms and yield the opposite of a Paul Simon album, because they absorb the rhythms, infuse it with their trademark magic, but somehow leave both things seemingly untouched, and still create something larger than both elements at the same time. I don't know how they do it, but it's always been magic to hear it.

With the release of "Pop Art: The Hits," a 2-CD career retrospective, my first impulse is to wonder why so many of my favorite tracks are missing, unlike a lot of recent singers whose "greatest hits" have to redefine the word "great," "hit," and add filler just to get it up to 40 minutes. One CD focuses on "Pop," the more straightforward radio-friendly unit shifters, whereas the "Art" disc goes for some of their more experimental stuff. Both are phenomenal.

The band, led by openly gay singer Neil Tennant, seems to have created a career largely under the radar of the general public. Whenever I mention them to people, they say "The guys who did 'West End Girls'?" as though their artistic merit ended in 1985.

Just the track listing to me has so many fun, favorite songs (Can You Forgive Her?, You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk, Single/Bilingual, I wouldn't normally Do This Kind Of Thing, New York City Boy), I can go on and on.

If you aren't familiar with this band, it's really a hole in your musical life, as far as I'm concerned. This collection is a great place for you to catch up. If you're anything like me, though, it will just make you reach back and get more of their CDs to hear more and more.