“Further Listening” is, in this case, a necessity
Pet Shop Boys put such care and love into the deluxe editions of their albums, the “Further Listening” discs of said remasters can hold up rather nicely on their own. These discs are a snapshot of what else the superduo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were doing at the time of each album’s recording (plus the album cycle), combining 7” and 12” mixes, b-sides, demos for other artists, and other ephemera into tidy, elegant packages. From the last batch of PSB reissues, of 1990’s Behaviour, 1993’s Very, and 1996’s Bilingual, here are the 10 best of those bonus tracks, listed in alphabetical order (along with the album on whose “Further Listening” disc you can find it).
“Absolutely Fabulous” (Very): Well, this one’s just plain ridiculous, in the best of ways. It’s Neil & Chris teaming up with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley of the British television classic Absolutely Fabulous to make 1994’s Comic Relief (which is still an ongoing concern in the UK) charity single. The Boys put together a driving techno-pop track, spiced it liberally with AbFab samples, had Saunders and Lumley utter a few more phrases for the record: presto! A UK #6 single! If you’re an AbFab fan, this will likely hit all your pleasure centers.
“Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend” (Behaviour): Originally inspired by a photo of George Michael out with a women (snap!), this driving house track became more of a riff on attractive women seen with men seen to not be “up to standards.” Musically, this has got a gorgeous arrangement, with instrumental bridges that seem so excited, they’re tripping over themselves.
“Confidential (Demo for Tina)” (Very): Obviously, when Tina Turner’s people contact you and ask for a song, you write a song for Tina Turner. What the Boys came up with was “Confidential,” a fairly subdued, midtempo number akin to “Only the Wind” (and much of Behaviour, for that matter). Tina’s version, on her 1996 album Wildest Dreams, isn’t as good, to be honest, but does feature backing vocals from Neil.
“Discoteca (New Version)” (Bilingual): In its original version, “Discoteca” opens Bilingual with a drum-heavy, Latin call to arms to dance — on the surface. But the song’s actually much deeper than that. According to Wayne Studer’s PSB blog Commentary, “Neil has said that this song was inspired by a young friend of his with AIDS who was having difficulty finding understanding and a sense of belonging in the midst of this medical and emotional crisis. Neil summarizes his thesis as follows: “The point of the song is contained in the lines ‘I’m going out and carrying on as normal.’ What are you meant to do when something terrible happens to you? You carry on as normal. You go out clubbing or whatever to try and forget.” This version, remixed by Pete Schwier, is shorter and much punchier than the album version, and is even more tribal than originally. It drastically improves upon its album version.
“DJ Culture (7” Mix)” (Behaviour): A swooning single which was one of two new tracks on their first comp, 1991’s cheekily-named Discography, “Culture” was co-produced by house masters Brothers In Rhythm, which helps explain the deep, deep house feels this song gives. “And I my Lord, may I say nothing?” is a near-quotation of what Oscar Wilde said at his trial for homosexuality, upon being sentenced to years of hard labor — another “hint” Neil Tennant was sending his fans regarding his own, not-yet-public sexuality.
“Girls and Boys (Live in Rio)” (Very): I mean, this should’ve been a PSB song from the get-go, right? Granted, Damon Albarn’s delivery added a certain frisson to it, but the Boys did a fine job stealing the song out from under Blur, performing their own remix of the song on the DiscoVery tour.
“Paninaro ‘95” (Bilingual): Originally, “Paninaro” was the B-side to 1986 single “Suburbia,” but this new version was released in ‘95 to promote the B-sides comp Alternative. It features Chris reciting (as drily as you can imagine) words about conspicuous consumption (the song is about the 1980s Italian youth culture known as the paninari) to a thumpy beat, while Neil just sings “Paninaro” as the chorus.
“The Truck Driver and His Mate” (Bilingual): To my ears, one of the closest things PSB have ever done to a traditional “rock” song. Of course, this being PSB, it’s not particularly traditional at all.
“Was It Worth It? (12” Mix)” (Behaviour): The second new single from Discography is a glorious, whirling track, featuring the Boys in what Neil called “full-on Stock-Aitken-Waterman mode,” and hey, if it works for Astley and Minogue, why not? A musical cousin of Kylie’s “Better the Devil You Know,” the lyrics here are pretty obviously about Neil embarking on a relationship — and it functions as his unofficial coming-out song to boot. The answer to the title question? “Yes, it’s worth living for!” Neil exclaims with the assistance a trio of female vocalists, including Tessa Niles. This is pure unalloyed joy, as it should be.
“Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) (Extended Version)” (Behaviour): As any PSB fan can tell you, Neil & Chris know their way around a cover version (cf. “Always on My Mind”). But it takes a certain kind of chutzpah to mash up covers of two completely different songs — from different eras, even. That’s what they did with this epic record, half of a 1991 double A-side with “How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?,” which combined U2’s third single from 1987’s The Joshua Tree with the 1960s classic by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons’. As all the great covers do, the Boys turned these two songs into something completely different, an altogether new beast. They state in the liners of Discography that they wanted to turn “a mythic rock song [“Streets”] into a stomping disco record.” Helping things along is the fact that PSB used as their inspiration the 1982 cover of “Eyes” by Chicago disco outfit Boystown Gang. Julian Mendelsohn co-produced this with Neil & Chris, though I don’t know whose (brilliant) idea it was to give the record such a Moroder-esque throb. The only real difference between this version and that on its single, is that this is longer — which in this case is cause for celebration.
Notes: two songs which appear in their original forms on the Very “Further Listening” disc have far superior remixes which are worth tracking down. “Miserablism” was given a dreamy Electro Mix by no less than a very young Moby (this was 1991, remember); that mix is found on the US 12” and CD single of “Was It Worth It?”
Meanwhile, “Being Boring”’s B-side, “We All Feel Better in the Dark” was given a couple of remixes by Brothers in Rhythm for the UK 12”. The Ambient Mix is, in fact, a piece of fairly ambient music, stripping out Chris Lowe’s vocal and leaving mostly some wide-open synth chords, a carefully picked guitar, and Neil saying the song’s title. It’s quite lovely.