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on 14 February 2012
Just think: how many bands do you know who can afford a quadruple album of essential B-sides?

"Format" arrives in a Mark Farrow-tastic box with thirty-eight tracks and a booklet where Jon Savage interviews Neil and Chris about the dark side of the single. Needless to say, they once again turn out to be The Wittiest Couple In Pop, no contest.

As for the music: this compilation holds together very well. even if it spans nearly two decades and various genres. We get disco, ballads, techno stomps, rocky bops and a wondrous cover in the form of "We're The Pet Shop Boys", the ultimate meta-pop song that was written by My Robot Friend and later sadly mauled by one R. Williams.

It does not end here: these songs also sparkle lyrically, brimming with a variety of themes that are presented with heartfelt, surgical precision. One simply cannot listen to the PSB without thinking of literature; E. M.Forster and Alan Hollinghurst, for instance, keep coming to mind. Mr Tennant's tone and narrative slant are up there, dispensing acute social commentary and poignant stories at every turn.

"Format" is therefore a further, pristine addition to the already glorious PSB canon.

These northeners really have a way with words and music. How do they do it?
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on 7 February 2012
A collection of B-sides on a 2-CD special album eye-candy box package must be a great collectible item for many die hard PSB fans. This release is intended to be the Vol. 2 of the earlier B-sides compilation entitled "Alternative". Taking a closer look on the tracklist of "Format" reveals that most tracks on this package have been released on bonus CDs of reissues of PSB's first six albums and CD singles. "Format" thus may not come as a great surprise to dedicated PSB fans who may find the box package of "Format" much more appealing instead than the tracks on it.

PSB's B-sides are usually worth listening to as they are nothing much less in quality than album tracks. However, it does not seem so lately with "Yes". The B-sides from "Yes" era with the exception of "After The Event" are rather lack of depth or substance that trademark PSB sound that we fans are familiar with and fond of. In contrast with those B-sides on its prequel "Alternative" which are full of surprises, depth and innovativeness, "Format" contains tracks that are mostly of "B-side" standards really, non-essentials or album fillers quality. Does this reflect the deteriorating song writing and music productions of PSB or that I am getting more critical of PSB's standards? I am rather confused at times. I am pleased with the sound of "Yes" album overall admitting it as a beautiful album and exclusive track like "This Used To Be The Future" on "Yes" Special Limited Edition album is really superb but I can't really speak highly of the potentials of those B-sides on singles released from "Yes".

It is a release to see lately some B-side tracks of the usual PSB standards back on "Together" and "Christmas" singles. Hopefully the next new album and B-side tracks released in future will deliver the usual PSB trademarked materials and the unique PSB sounds that all our long time PSB fans are hoping for!!!
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on 14 February 2012
Once again the Pet Shop Boys have released an album of 'B' sides and extras, following on from the Album called' Alternative'.
I am not sure whether they have a lack of new material or they have a very willing record label or is this the album that the fans want?
Or all three???
On first play, songs like 'in the night', 'the boy who couldn't keep his clothes on', 'nightlife' and 'confidential' are just what the doctor ordered... some other songs are just plain being boring!
38 tracks for approx a tenner represents great value. the jury is still undecided as far as im concerned and im a huge PSB fan, both old and new material... give it a go and you might be surprised - maybe....
Can we have a new album of new material soon please??
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on 7 February 2012
From 1996's "Bilingual" to 2009's "Yes", the PSBs have continued to release a plethora of bonus and non-album tracks with every release and FORMAT does an excellent job of chronologically documenting these. Here, you will find the PSBs at their experimental best, ranging from jungle, latino and electronica to rabid pop and all-out rock. There are too many to review individually, but highlights on the album for me include the guitar-driven "I didn't get where I am today" which could easily have been a successful single and is remininiscent of Beautiful People from "Yes". Johnny Marr's trademark plucking of a Beatles-esque riff under an uplifting melody make it a crime that this song was consigned to B-side status. The Nirvana-inspired "Party Song" is another that would make many of today's young upstarts green with envy that 2 men in their 50s can produce such relevant, vibrant, colourful yet challenging pop after approaching 30 years in the business. Tennant sings with a sneer only Shaun Ryder could rival over an electronic riff which owes more than a nod to "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Sheer brilliance. One other than merits a mention is the strangely disturbing "Gin and Jag" which explores the dark side of the internet. The threatening lyrics match perfectly with the danger-tinged harmonies employed by Tennant.
Overall, a wonderous piece of work, which flows, on the whole, with a surprising underlying consistency, despite the changing styles throughout the 38 songs and 13 years spanned. Ideal for a long car journey, at least until the promised 2012 album of brand new material is released.
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on 8 February 2012
What a wonderful collection of B-Sides. At first I thought that it wouldn't match anywhere near the original Alternative album but this is full of excellent and well crafted tracks. The one only problem I have with this compilation is that the remastering of this album seems far too loud. When compared to the B-Sides as featured on the already remastered Bilingual - Further Listening CD, the distortion is quite evident when playing on the iPod. Does anyone else notice this at all? Other than that, as I said before, an excellent collection.
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on 17 April 2012
It's ok, not great. There some good songs on the compilation and some not so good-culled from b-sides between 1996 and 2010 the compilation isn't a patch on Altenative the last b-side compilation. The standout tracks to me are:

"The Resurrectionist", a b-side from the "I'm with Stupid" single-a sort of techno-noir song about body-snatching, however I prefer the Extended Goetz B remix myself.

"Screaming"

"In Private"-originally written for Dusty Springfield, and featuring on this version Elton John.

If you have all the albums and singles chances are you heard them before so it's not an essential purchase, more of a primer for those getting into the group or those "catching up" on singles or songs they've missed out on.

However the one thing that does define this album is that a bad or mediocre Pet Shop Boys song on a b-side or as an extra track on a cd is usually far far superior to anything else around
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on 24 February 2012
The Magic Shoemaker (Live Recording)The guitar riffs on "I Didn't Get Where I Am Today" were written by Dave Lambert, the lead guitarist (and a vocalist and songwriter) with Strawbs, who are still touring the UK, Europe, Canada, US these days as both an electric band and as Acoustic Strawbs.

Dave had a band called Fire before joining Strawbs in the early 1970s and Fire released a classic single called "Father's Name is Dad", which is where the riffs come from. (A copy of the original single sold for £515 on eBay last week incidentally!) Dave Lambert was properly credited on The Pet Shop Boys' release, to his delight.

Anyone who wants to hear the original song with the riffs might be interested to know that the original members of Fire reformed to play in 2007 and released a live album called "The Magic Shoemaker Live" which has a terrific live version of "Father's Name is Dad" on it (available here on Amazon). [...]/davelambert07 [...] and comprehensive details of Dave's shows with Strawbs plus more information is at [...] - also a nice Youtube clip of the song being played live in 2007 is at this link:
[...]
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 6 February 2012
The sequel, of sorts, to 1995's "Alternative", "Format" is best seen as perhaps part of a very much a dying breed : The B-sides album. Over their quarter century (is it that long? It doesn't seem so, but it obviously is), the Pet Shop Boys have seen the dominance of the format, the plushing of the vinyl single, the rise, and hasty death of cassette, and the entire lifespan of the CD single : "Always On My Mind" was the first Number One Christmas single available on CD in the UK. 38 songs at a very affordable price in a double set : near enough every Pet Shop Boys song that hasn't been on an album. Near enough.

Now, the b-side is an anarchronism : there are no b-sides anymore. Physical singles are practically extinct : HMV in Oxford Street - the biggest record shop in Europe - contains a two feet of rack space for the CD single. Everything is available on your virtual storefront.

Taking perhaps a strange role then, this record, or box set, of something like 40 songs is a lavish, exhaustive two and a half journey through Pet Shop Boys back pages. Running from 1996 to 2009, from the bands out-of-time "Bilingual" to the largely successful commercial reappraisal of "Yes", , "Format" is, by definition incomplete - missing the b-sides to the last three singles - and doing what most b-side albums do, which is sound exactly like a collection of songs that don't quite fit well together recorded many years apart.

To their credit, the Pet Shop Boys still bother with b-sides. For many bands, the b-side is now nothing more than a digital bundle of extra leftovers pared off and thrown randomly across the internet through several retailer-only exclusives, or perhaps, even worse, akin to the Depeche Mode remix record from the summer, where 25 extra remixes were only available from 7 seperate digital sellers.

For this band - Britains best songwriting duo - there is no such as a b-side, just a song that doesn't make it onto the album. And here they are. Keen listeners will know first few songs from the 2001 remaster set of "Bilingual", with others from the various limited double-disc formats of the albums at the time of their release. Others - such as "The former enfant terrible" have only ever been seen as downloads. Not that this necessarily matters, for "Format" collects almost every non-album song from the second fifteen years of their lives, and places them in chronological order . Until such time as an exhaustive set of remasters and reissues slip out for their last few records, "Format" is the place to be.

It starts with "The Truck Driver And His Mate", which is somewhat more sexual than you might expect. Beyond this, the rest of this are some of the finest songs you've never heard - 12 songs alone from the "Bilingual" record, including the under-rated remix/amped up re-recording of "Discoteca" which takes a mid-paced ballad and becomes a andrenalised stomper. "Disco potential" and the somewhat lyrically slight "The View From My Balcony" (which is exactly that), are not the greatest Pet Shop Boys ever.

1999's "Nightlife" was, at the time, seemingly shorn of, and out of step with the world.A brash disco album with tinges of regret, the b-sides were oft overlooked : the band were at this stage, touring to half-empty arenas with a bankrupt Harvey Goldsmith taking the proceeds, and whilst their commercial stock was challenged, the record gifted some of the finest songs they ever wrote - whilst "Je T'Aime" with Sam Taylor Wood is missing, we do get the under-appreciated tussle that is the Chris-Lowe led "Lies". Sticking with the chronological aim of the record, CD1 ends with "Sexy Northerner", which is amongst the greatest b-sides of all time : unforgettable, daft and funny in equal measure. The key to happy living is not taking yourself too seriously, after all.

The second CD opens with 8 or 9 songs from the 2002-3 period around the "Release" album, where the bands commercial stock was as low as it has ever been, the material was presented with a somewhat realistic, organic approach and - whilst the relative "back to basics" approach of touring with a regular band of guitars, drums, and so forth and minimalist staging had a certain effect, the overall result was one of a drift from the world of big hits. As was expected, a consolidating greatest hits record was issued : the b-sides from period are both good, average, and somewhat unexceptional. You can see why songs such as "Always" - a midpaced, unexceptional, fogettable song - never made the parent album. And, despite being covered by Robbie Williams, the song "We're The Pet Shop Boys" (itself a cover) is perhaps one of the finest, funniest, and most enjoyable hagiographies ever committed to tape. Later, songs such as "The Resurrectionist", and a retooled with-Elton-John version of 1989's "In private" are welcome additions and proof, were any needed that after twenty years, the band still had and maintained a certain, unique personality. The kind that if it didn't exist, you would miss it, and wonder where such artists wwhere in the world. By the end of the album, and the prolific "Yes" period, the b-sides of the first two singles are present : but many songs - the b-sides to the German "Beautiful people" single, the Christmas EP, "Together" are all absent without leave, and - time restrictions of the format aside - missing.

"Format" is what it is, both a dying breed of the compilation of the now sadly endangered extra track and b-side, and a compendium of extra songs that supplement and expand the previous five studio records with several additional songs each. Some of them are the finest songs the band have recorded : some of them not so. Some of them are songs that you will hold in your ears with a wonder as to where they have been all your life. Others not so. And, unless you bought a digital download from one specific website, others will be songs you probably didn't know existed. Designed for the casual, this weighty, popstuffed package is a value for money delivery mechanism for 38 songs that have, over the past 15 years, been a well-kept secret from pop music's back pages. We're the Pet Shop Boys, indeed.
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on 12 February 2012
FORMAT is the follow-up to ALTERNATIVE, the 1995 Pet Shop Boys b-side-collection. Just like they did for ALTERNATIVE, the Boys talked to Jon Savage about the songs. The interview, however, is much shorter than the one in the ALTERNATIVE booklet - and this is an indication of something.
Nonchalantly breezing past their own songs, the Boys leave an impression of laziness, as if the interview is done on autopilot. This is not absolutely true, because Chris Lowe is entertaining and witty as ever. But compare this interview to the one in BILINGUAL / FURTHER LISTENING 1995-1997: while talking about much the same songs, the BILINGUAL interview is thorough and chockfull of detail, the FORMAT interview superficial. Another example would be the part about the song `We're all criminals now', where Neil mentions that this song came out of `the phase in our history where we're al concerned with terrorism and ID cards are proposed to prove who you are'. For the casual PSB fan, this `phase' could stand some more historical context. And how do the Boys look back at this `phase' today? In summary, this interview leaves a lot to be desired.

The Boys themselves maintain that the b-side is a place to experiment. There is indeed some experimentation going on here. Or rather: imitation. The excellent `The truck-driver and his mate' is their take on Oasis. `Betrayed' is jungle (and just dreadful). `Disco Potential' tries very hard to be a Prodigy track. `Silver Age' finds the Boys doing a Massive Attack impression (and they do it really well), `The ghost of myself' winks at Britney Spears' `Hit me baby (one more time)'. Finally, `Party song' toys around with the melody of Nirvana's `Smells like teen spirit' and `Nightlife' ventures into Bee Gees territory.

Whereas ALTERNATIVE is one of the best PSB-albums out there, FORMAT is exactly what it says on the box: a b-side collection. There is very little a-side-material here, but the album is worth the purchase for a handful of gems (and a wealth of okay left-over material).
On `The truck-driver and his mate' and `Sexy Northerer', the Boys rock and it's an awful lot of fun. Both songs should have been on albums. I also enjoyed techno stompers like `Blue on blue' and `Transparent'. The joyous `Up and down' should been a single, and the same goes for `I didn't get where I am today', one of my all-time favourite Pet Shop Boys tracks. I can understand why this was relegated to b-side-status, since the lyrics are blatantly autobiographical, but still: this is an awesome song. It gets positive attention in nearly every press and customer review about FORMAT.
Also very impressive are the precious, moody ballads `Silver Age' and `Always'.

You could draw two conclusions about FORMAT. One: 8 excellent tracks out of 38 is not great. Two: even a b-side collection provides enough good tracks to fill a complete album. Take the 8 songs I mentioned above and add 4 more, decent ones: `The calm before the storm', `Friendly fire', `The former enfant terrible' and `The Resurrectionist' and there you go: "Pet Shop Boys Unheard".
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on 19 March 2012
I listened to the CD and it has some great songs on it, PSB always come up with some great b sides/extra tracks. However, being a huge fan I already had probably 95% of the tracks so a bit disappointing that there wasn't more new stuff/alternates/remixes. I bought it as it is another album to add to the collection while waiting for the new album.
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