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‘Yes’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pet Shop Boys’ “Colourful Pop” Album
Warner Music
List & Guides

‘Yes’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pet Shop Boys’ “Colourful Pop” Album

Made in collaboration with the production team that dominated 2000s pop, each song on Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Yes’ album is awash with invention.

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“A shiny pop record with the producers du jour” – that’s how Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant summarised Yes, their tenth studio album, in the liner notes for the collection’s reissue (see the 3CD Further Listening set, released in 2017). Xenomania, the production house behind hits from Kylie Minogue, Alesha Dixon, Sugababes and – most notably – Girls Aloud, were the sound of 2000s pop, but Brian Higgins, the head of the unit, was initially wary of collaborating with artists of Pet Shop Boys’ stature. “I’d just had a difficult experience with another big group,” he admitted. But the Lowe and Tennant charm – and a listen to early demo Did You See Me Coming? – soon made Higgins reconsider. What emerged is an 11-track collection of what Lowe has since appraised as “colourful pop” – as revealed by this track-by-track guide through every song on the album…

Listen to ‘Yes’ here.

‘Yes’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pet Shop Boys’ “Colourful Pop” Album

Love Etc.

An early Xenomania track played to Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant at the start of the Yes writing sessions, Love Etc. ended up being released as the first single from the album. Despite BBC Radio 1 deciding not to support the song, it still managed to make the UK Top 20 – and it’s easy to see why. This clever, textured track, stuffed with catchy electro-pop hooks, is classic Xenomania, and its anti-materialist lyrics captures much of Pet Shop Boys’ inspired social observation (a perennial theme across many of the best Pet Shop Boys songs). Topping the US dance charts for good measure, Love Etc. assured long-term fans that the PSB/Xenomania partnership would work, and reintroduced the pair to the wider public when it featured in a BRITs Awards performance staged for the duo’s acceptance of a Lifetime Achievement award. Ambitious pop is what Pet Shop Boys have always done best, and Love Etc. is precisely that.

All Over The World

The final track to be written for Yes, All Over The World was almost left off the album until a sample from the March theme, from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, added a euphoric lift to the original demo recording. Brian Higgins loves this song: “You’ve just made the album 20 per cent better,” he is reported to have said when All Over The World was locked. It is a brilliant hands-in-the-air floorfiller that ranks as one of PSB’s most euphoric album tracks. Deep cuts don’t come much more compelling than this.

Beautiful People

The 60s vibe of this atmospheric shuffler is heightened by a rich orchestration and sublime lyrics that are theatrical in scale. Is the song’s subject flattened by an envy of the “beautiful people”, or is there a melancholic ambition in the dreams those figures inspire? Hard to tell, as Tennant’s lyrics routinely resist leading you directly to a conclusion. That Beautiful People was written as a potential TV theme tune shouldn’t surprise anyone, but its eventual berth on Yes feels comfortable. File it as a companion piece to earlier successes in a similar style, such as Rent, from 1987’s Actually.

Did You See Me Coming?

The song that sealed the deal with Xenomania, Did You See Me Coming? was issued as the second single from Yes, based on strong feedback from BBC’s Radio 2, and it performed solidly enough, peaking just outside the UK Top 20. Did You See Me Coming? is one of those tracks that is unmistakably Pet Shop Boys – a catchy electro-pop cut, with nods to the Italo sounds that characterised some of the duo’s earliest work. Johnny Marr plays guitar on this track.

Vulnerable

Mournful electronica and one of Neil Tennant’s favourite of all the Yes album’s songs, Vulnerable might have been even more interesting if the idea to record it with Carla Bruni had gone anywhere. There are similarities to the late-80s Europop smash Voyage Voyage, by Desireless – which PSB acknowledge – but this doesn’t distract. It’s a softer, more reflective moment in an album more routinely focused on punchier, emotive highs.

More Than A Dream

Xenomania steered much of this track’s genesis, and the production team’s signature patchwork approach to riffs, melodies and instrumentation is evident. There is a compelling melody here, making More Than A Dream a catchy contender among a very strong field of songs.

Building A Wall

The urgency of Building A Wall’s hugely addictive chorus belies the track’s central strangeness – lots of war references and a mention of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – making it tough to decipher what on earth the song is all about. But it works, and this cut – apparently later PSB producer Stuart Price’s pick among the Yes songs – simply carries you along. And it sounds brilliant live.

King Of Rome

Chris Lowe wrote the music for King Of Rome, and the lyrics, by Neil Tennant, are about Napoleon’s son. Drawing on parallels with the “King Of Pop”, Michael Jackson, the song was written shortly before Jackson’s death while he was struggling to realign his career. It’s a languid composition, perhaps more in keeping with Pet Shop Boys’ previous studio album, Fundamental, produced by Trevor Horn. About as far from colourful pop as the Yes songs get, this haunting track is nonetheless a solid album cut.

Pandemonium

Fans – and Pet Shop Boys themselves – can’t quite understand why this stomper wasn’t a single. It had been written for Kylie, but Lowe and Tennant decided they liked it rather too much to hand over. Johnny Marr is on harmonica this time, and even Bob Stanley, from St Etienne, turns up on backing vocals. Pandemonium is a glitzy, glamp-pop diamond, and it later lent its title to the Yes album’s tour, making the setlist in a mashup with Did You See Me Coming?

The Way It Used To Be

Statistically, The Way It Used To Be is the firm fan favourite among the Yes album’s 11 songs (Pet Shop Boys are the sort of act that actually goes to the trouble to work this stuff out). This one started life as a Xenomania backing track, and was at one stage earmarked for single release. It’s a hypnotic midtempo grower, which really packs a punch as the song develops. “By far and away the standout track on this album,” is Chris Lowe’s to-the-point summary in the Further Listening reissue’s sleeve notes.

Legacy

Certainly not “colourful pop”, Legacy is about as experimental as any of the songs on Yes gets. Musically, it’s perhaps not an obvious finishing note to what has gone before, but there’s a creative bravado in closing a pop album with a subject as divisive as former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had then recently vacated 10 Downing Street. Thematically, of course, the song has much to say about judgement and closing chapters, so its place in the running order makes sense in that regard. The shift into waltz time pushes things in an ever-stranger musical direction, leaving listeners with the overarching sense of a band enjoying its moment with a production team happy to steer its charges in whatever direction they choose. Ten albums in, and with their own legacy well established, Pet Shop Boys had earned that freedom.

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