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Whatever the format, PSB are genuine all-time greats
on 17 February 2012
If we're being totally honest about the music business there are few bands who could ever truly release an "essential" greatest hits package. There's even less who could rattle up a two cd set of b-sides. Rarer still is the band who could rattle up a two-disc greatest hits packed with 35 UK top 20 hits and TWO great compilations of completely different b-sides/extra tracks.
The times have changed since Alternative, Pet Shop Boys' first collection of b-sides. B-Sides were in their latter years back in 1995 when we got Alternative and yet the onslaught of "digital" singles means that "extra" tracks are now more in vogue than they've ever been. Such is the work ethic and quality of Messrs Tennant & Lowe it never seems to be a chore for them to come up with quality "extra" tracks that have always seemed to be a cut above the "throwaway" ditties that can make up a lot of band's extra efforts (even if the days of PSB tailoring b-sides to particular singles are also long gone).
If there's less "experimentation" on Format than there was on Alternative it's perhaps understandable yet the chronological nature of the release means you can trace a number of "pop phases" through these tracks (as the Boys themselves have acknowledged) as they've never been shy to express their influences nor have a crack at what the sound of the times is.
When Format is good, it's so good you wonder why certain songs didn't at least make it onto albums. Indeed there are some, such as the Johnny Marr featuring I Didn't Get Where I Am Today, that simply scream out "hit-single". There are also a number of what I would term "essential" PSB tracks that might not have had the "hit potential" but remain up there with their best works. I'm thinking of the likes of The Truck Driver & His Mate (a wonderfully witty and sly take on the nighttime adventures of said truck driver, which was their attempt at an "Oasis sound"), Sexy Northener (a pulsating dance driven rhythm allied with some of Tennant's brilliant eye - or eye - for observation) and Blue on Blue (a sort of electro-clash song that would no doubt have been praised to the hilt if some young, "bedroom genius" came up with it). Then there's the likes of Party Song which, quite amazingly, started life off as an attempted cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit (you'll think not at first, but listen...you'll pick it up).
Comparing it to Alternative there's probably a few more tracks on here that don't hit the mark and there's probably a bit less that makes you sit up and think "how on earth wasn't this a single?". However in general it shows you that whilst their critical reception may have ebbed and flowed over the thirteen years of this compilation (1996-2009) they've rarely stopped producing quality pop tunes.