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PET SHOP BOYS - Concrete, Live At The Mermaid Theatre, London 2006   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Sunday, 29 October 2006

PopArt, Opera.... Popera?


Coming an unfeasably short time after May’s “Fundamental”, the oddly titled “Concrete” is that most unusual of Pet Shop Boys concepts – the live album. For a band that famously never toured for the first five years of their career, and for whom live shows after that date were both infrequent and spectacular, this is a strange move : a live album complete with the BBC Orchestra, guest stars, and none of the theatrics one might expect from them. No costume changes – though since there is no DVD it’s hard to tell if there was one.


Oddly enough, this is their very own “S&M”, the symphonic pop album – a genre sadly only really seen in erratic live releases  : a greatest hits carved from the granite of possiblity.


With a dramatic flair, the album leans towards the more grandoise of their ouevre, and omits some obvious crowd pleasers – no sign here of “Go West”, “Always On My Mind”, “Being Boring”, “So Hard”, et al. if you want those, go for 2003’s “PopArt” collection. Highlights from the new album, the strangely affecting “Numb”, and the pointedly political “Integral” sit perfectly within the work as a whole.


What you do get is the epic, grand drama of pop opera. Or, if you were inventing the language – Popera. The set offers mostly the tried and relatively test hits-and-stuff-off-the-new-album formula most ands play. Perversely, neither of the two lead singles from “Fundamental” are present – jettisoned in favour of, for example, material from their lesser known extremities, such as material from the albums they wrote for Dusty Springfield and Liza Minelli, and the soundtracks to “Closer To Heaven” and “Battleship Potemkin”. Guest vocalists drop in to give the music a new interpretation – Robbie Williams commits himself admirably on an unexpected “Jealousy”, whilst Rufus Wainwright offers a lifetime highlight with the under-appreciated “Casanova In Hell”. If anything, this single song justifies the existence of the whole album – Rufus croons and peels his way through lines like “he couldn’t get an erection” (with orchestral backing) like a camp, contemporary Elvis.


From the opener, “Left To My Own Devices”, 8 minutes of debussy-with-a-disco-beat (which is de rigeur for every reviewer to quote at some point) is an ambitious opener executed perfectly to the final almost, predictable “West End Girls” (one of the most over-rated songs of all time), the set is a compact precis of all that is good and great about Britains best selling, and most wonderfully overblown pop duo : not essential, but certainly a brilliant and interesting excursion into uncharted waters. Concrete is perverse pop at it’s best.


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