Recommended Albums #12

Yes

Pet Shop Boys: Yes (2009)

Sometimes we miss out on some great music because of our tendency to relegate an artist to a particular era in our minds.

If you think of Donovan, for example, as an artist of the 60’s–since he last hit the top 40 in 1969–you might not realize he recorded some great live albums, most of which he delivered in the 1970’s and later. If you only think of the late 70’s when you think of great Warren Zevon music, you probably missed a career highlight when the sobered-up Zevon released the cracking Sentimental Hygiene album of 1987. If you thought the only work of Graham Parker’s that mattered was his early albums with the Rumour, you’d find 1988’s The Mona Lisa’s Sister an unexpected treat. If you lost track of Asia when the 80’s ended, you won’t be aware that they may have turned in their finest album ever when the original lineup reconvened for 2008’s Phoenix. And if you think Prince hasn’t released anything good since the late 90’s…actually, you’re spot on in that case–but I digress.

pet-shop

Pet Shop Boys’ run of US top twenty singles began in 1986 and was over by ’88–a short peak era for a fairly iconic act. So to many (myself included) they existed mostly in a small 80’s dance-pop box. They do have their loyal fans though; they’ve continued releasing albums every few years and in the UK none has charted lower than #7. But to the mainstream American record-buying public, they’re an act from another era; they may as well be Culture Club.

But some bands continue releasing quality material, or even release their best material, long after their fifteen minutes of limelight is over–making all the impact of the proverbial tree falling in the forest. And Yes is, to my ears, the best album Pet Shop Boys have ever made. Had it come around in, say, 1989 it would have been all over American radio and had the audience it deserves.

Any band that’s been around for decades is subject, on the release of something new, to the scrutiny of whether it “stands up” to their older material. Not only does this stand up, but in some ways it is superior. Pet Shop Boys have never employed a lot of harmony vocals; here, ecstatic choruses unfold in full color as never before. Whereas for most artists the peak of sales coincides with a peak of artistic vision and creativity, followed by a long slow decline into mediocrity, in the case of PSB it’s more like they’ve only refined their songcraft over the years. And now, rather unexpectedly, 20 years on from their peak of record sales, they’ve reached the height of their record-making skill.

Even someone who never cared particularly for their old stuff could appreciate this album. If you’ve never been a fan of Pet Shop Boys, give Yes a chance to turn you into one.

Listen to: “Did You See Me Coming”

Listen to: “Love Etc”

Listen to: “Pandemonium”

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