Pet Shop Boys: Very

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I’d been a fan of Pet Shop Boys since “West End Girls” hit the airwaves in 1985. (It was originally released in ’84, I know, but with limited exposure.) The high-energy electronic music paired with the slightly sinister, almost laconic vocals, less singing than spoken word, captured my attention as something unlike anything I’d heard before. I followed their career and albums somewhat casually throughout the mid-to-late eighties, always genuinely impressed with their output. After 1990, however, I lost a bit of interest, primarily due to the three-year hiatus between albums. When Very was released 24 years ago on September 27, 1993, it completely flew under my radar.

I don’t know exactly when I first heard “Can You Forgive Her?” but it was sometime after we’d rolled the odometer over into the new millennium. Despite the subject matter, it was a hugely uplifting track, and lyrics like, “She’s made you some kind of laughing stock / because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock,” resonated for a guy who still loved Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Moby, and any number of other electronic acts whose music I loved to dance to.

Though they had experimented with orchestral arrangements on prior albums, Very saw them embracing it in ways they hadn’t previously, at times creating lush soundscapes more akin to chamber music than electronic pop. The 35 second intro to “The Theatre” melds an electronic beats to a soaring string arrangement in a way that serves as blueprint for Moby’s biggest hits nearly a decade later.

Twenty four years later, the album sounds as fresh as it must have done in 1993. Strings, brass, and woodwinds permeate the record without ever sounding pretentious and nearly the whole album is given over to upbeat dance tracks, including a fabulous cover of The Village People’s “Go West” that sounds more like a dreamy love song than a seventies dance standard while still remaining true to its disco roots. 

On one of the few deviations from the dancefloor imprint of Very, “To Speak Is A Sin” takes the flavor of modernized ’70s yacht rock and Tennant’s voice is at its peak on this track. It’s a bit gauzy and maudlin, but the synthesized strings and the hint of a choir still allow this number to retain the uplifting feel of the rest of the album. And they channel their inner Bowie on “Young Offender” to great effect.

Even the tracks that tend toward the melancholy are written and arranged in such a way that if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics, the music puts forth an amazingly positive vibe. Very isn’t Tennant & Lowe‘s best known album, particularly in the U.S., but it marks a change to their sound that works well as a starting point in acquainting yourself with their work in the 1990s. 

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