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Customer Review

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The packaging is as good as the music!, 13 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Format (Audio CD)
Although I've always loved the Pet Shop Boys and have all their albums, I've never been enough of a fan to buy all the singles so I appreciate these B-sides compilations.

Seventeen years on, 'Format' is the follow-up to the brilliant Alternative and although of comparable quality is a very different collection. What I enjoyed most about 'Alternative' was seeing how Neil and Chris progressed musically. It was almost like hearing them become the Pet Shop Boys, so by the time of the last track on the second CD they have arrived at their unique sound.

There's less development in 'Format' because that sound has been established. To that extent this new collection is less of a journey than a series of forays from an established point, so there are some real oddities, tracks that sound more experimental than anything you'd get on an album, for example 'Disco Potential' or 'The Former Enfant Terrible' (great title even if the song doesn't quite work). There are also some ridiculously camp songs too, 'Between Two Islands' and some unexpected instrumentals.

This means the album is a bit patchy and I can see certain songs being permanently skipped over. What remains (and it is the majority) is just wonderful and cover the complete soundscape of the PSB. There are the thumping dance numbers, 'Resurrectionist' or 'Blue on Blue' as well the quieter, more thoughtful and intimate tracks (the closest PSB come to ballads) such as 'The Calm before the Storm' a short, elegiac gem. There are also some unexpectedly rocky numbers, 'I didn't get where I am today', for example, and I was glad to see 7" versions of 'Discoteca' and 'No Time for Tears'.

My only slight disappointment is a lack of true 'signature' PSB tracks, those songs that combine relentless disco beats with melancholic orchestral arrangements... but because this is a B-side collection (i.e. material that didn't make it on to the albums) that may not be a surprise.

Finally no review could omit saying something about the packaging. As always with a PSB release it's as good as the music with a beautiful box, great cover design, two separate wallets for each CD and a fascinating booklet that adds more detail and explanation about the songs. (Shame there's no photo of 'The Boys'). Indeed so consistently good is PSB packaging I can never imagine buying one of their albums on digital download.

Non-PSB fans probably won't be moved by this collection, but if you like them this is an essential purchase. It only goes up to 2009... so let's hope that means a third B-side collection will be released one day. I just hope we don't have to wait as long as we did after 'Alternative'.
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