Che Guevara and Debussy would both have major problems with Ultimate Pet Shop Boys — and not just because they already shelled out for the Pop Art compilation back in 2006. Che would be upset by the absence of the Boys’ two greatest capitalist satires, “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” and “Rent”. (Don’t mess with Che when he’s upset.) Debussy would miss the Tchaikovsky-sampling “All Over the World” and the kept-woman evocation “Rent”. As for everybody else: did I mention this CD doesn’t include “Rent”? What have we done to deserve this?
Now, if you shell out a not-unreasonable sum of money for the Special Edition, which includes two discs of live performances, including a complete set from Glastonbury earlier this year, you’ll get all of the above songs and plenty of others you may or may not wanna hear. Look, there’s “Rent” on Top of the Pops! Crazy smoke machine; it really gets you inside the febrile mind of the kept woman. Of course, if you’re reading this review, you probably already own “Rent”, not to mention “Opportunities”. If not, go buy Pop Art. (The first Pet Shop Boys compilation, Discography, shouldn’t be considered in light of its rash decision to exclude “Go West”, the Boys’ most heartrending four minutes of bliss — said bliss, after all, is perpetually in the future, somewhere else — ostensibly because it “hadn’t been recorded yet” or something.) As a single disc compilation, Ultimate lives up to that audacious adjective worse than any album in recorded history, with the possible exception of Radio Disney Ultimate Jams, which rashly excluded the A*Teens’ “Halfway Around the World”. Se a vida é.
Three of the songs here are new to Pet Shop Boys comps; they’re not great. “Love etc.” is the best, a swinging capitalist-satire-with-heart that opened last year’s pretty good album Yes. “I’m with Stupid” is an ‘06 political putdown, wise and cheeky about its object’s stupidity, but not that memorable a tune. “Together” is the shiny new fan-bait; it’s the only Pet Shop Boys song in 3/4 time, and that may be the only interesting thing about it. A pleasant ode to keeping the band together for more than 25 years (no mean feat), it needn’t be heard by anyone who’s not a Pet Shop Boy. It’s as though, to commemorate their quarter-century in the biz, the Boys wrote each other a waltz. All coworkers should be so lucky.
However redundant, Ultimate Pet Shop Boys still contains eight or nine bounce-off-the-walls, think-about-life, luxuriate-in-sound great songs. The most recent is the warm “Home and Dry”, which opened 2002’s grownup album Release with a guitar figure not unlike Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You”. From the get-go, the Pet Shop Boys have been masters of creating vivid pop arrangements that allow every element its say, whether it’s the technicolor piano figure of “Suburbia” or the droney synth-didgeridoo — which I only just noticed — in “Where the Streets Have No Name”. French horns seem to pop up everywhere. While their synthpop peers Erasure needed a couple years to concoct a full sound, Pet Shop Boys seemed to hit the ground running with the dogs.