And someone said it’s fabulous they’re still around today…
What is it?
Fundamental is the 2006 studio release from the Pet Shop Boys. It runs for a dozen tracks, though one song is only about a minute long. There’s a special edition which adds a 2nd disc worth of remixes, if you’re into that sort of thing. (They certainly seem to be.)
How does it sound?
Everyone has their own sampler in the system that we operate under.
Why this pick?
It’s arguably the last great Pet Shop Boys record. Well, maybe that’s actually Yes, which is catchier overall but less musically or lyrically interesting.
As with any pick for this music project, like it was for last year’s animation project, the primary criteria is that of joy: Did it bring me joy, and do I think there’s a chance it’ll do the same for you? As uneven as it is, I get a kick out of a lot of songs on this album, so it qualifies.
On top of which, this one’s interesting because it’s an unusually political work. The lead-off single is a straight-up political satire. Another song centers on the advent of a controlling surveillance state. We’re also treated to statements about history being written by the survivors and about the conflict between the notion of sin and the desire to live life freely. Not all of these land perfectly, mind you, and it’s not like they’ve shied away from the occasional controversial subject in the past, but it’s unusually concentrated here.
Which songs are the highlights?
The strongest tunes are spread across the album, leading off with the jarring but still likeable “Psychological” followed by “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show,” a song which manages to make a lyrically dense and complex chorus work, somehow.
My three favorites overall are “Minimal,” “Twentieth Century,” and especially the closing track, “Integral.”
There’s amusement value in the Bush-and-Blair-pairing mockery of “I’m With Stupid,” and the down-tempo, non-PSB-penned “Numb” is a nicely somber piece which either hits or misses for me depending on my mood at the moment.
Which songs don’t work so well?
There’s almost no such thing as a Pet Shop Boys album without a few dull thuds. They like doing torch songs and other slow fare; I don’t enjoy listening to them. It doesn’t help that two of these, “I Made My Excuses And Left” and “Indefinite Leave To Remain” get incredibly clunky at the chorus bits.
I find “Cassanova in Hell” a bit off-putting, and “Luna Park” is just kind of there.
(There’s nothing wrong with “God Willing,” it’s just a 77-second instrumental mid-album breather.)
Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?
I almost chose Behavior, which I consider the strongest of their early albums. I almost chose Bilingual, which features a disproportionate percentage of my all-time favorite Pet Shop Boys songs. I almost chose Very, which isn’t the best album but it’s interesting and does count some truly strong and interesting tracks. I almost chose Yes, which is chock full of classic Pet Shop Boys styling with great modern production values and shows that even at the end of the two-thousand-aughts they could still summon the magic that made them stars. I almost… well, you get the idea.
In other words: This was the toughest musical act to choose an album for out of this entire year’s project. Even more so than for Genesis. (Actually, that one was an easy choice.)
Any final thoughts?
I referred above to Fundamental being arguably the last great Pet Shop Boys record. That’s not to say that their records since have been lousy, just (generally) quieter and slower and not quite as compelling in terms of what I get out their stuff usually. If you’re curious, check out the 2016 release, Super. The first 1/3 of the album (four songs’ worth) is solid enough to suggest that Neil and Chris haven’t lost their verve quite yet.
If you take nothing else away from this, please remember that the Pet Shop Boys are far, far more than just “the guys who did that West End Girls song back in the ’80s.”