Despite their now-ghetto categorization, the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure helped define electronica when today's stars were still in diapers. New releases from each band help restore some honor to their oft-underestimated legacies.
The Pet Shop Boys' Disco 3 is a followup to 1986's Disco, an album that, along with releases from Soft Cell and the Human League, ushered in the concept of remix albums -- compendiums of B-sides and club-mixed versions of singles and album tracks. By boosting the commercial potential of previously issued material while allowing for non-mainstream experimentation, the remix album has morphed into a stand-alone art form, and it spawned the DJ collections that have been popular since the '90s. The Pet Shop Boys' latest foray (which hit number one on Billboard's Electronic Album Chart) is a relatively saucy effort from a couple of forty-something British queens. Shepherded by Berlin producer Chris Zippel, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe unveil five new recordings, including the bitchy, scratchy pop of "Positive Role Model" and the sexually deviant, home-wrecker ballad "Try It (I'm in Love With a Married Man)." On "Somebody Else's Business" and "If Looks Could Kill," they lay down delayed beats, synthesized vocals and pure electronics that would seem like in-vogue new electro if they weren't coming from a pair of the sound's pioneers. Remixes from 2002's Release round out the collection: Felix da Housecat turns "London" into low-key electro-clash; Germany's Blank & Jones go trance on "Home and Dry"; and Tom "Superchumbo" Stephan dulls out the already bass-friendly beats of "Sexy Northerner." But Disco 3's best track is the Boys' reworking of "Home," a domestic ode that pumps out dreamy synths and arching rhythm beds.
Erasure, that other gay-pop creation, has been relegated by music critics to a sub-Pet Shop Boys status, possibly because it doesn't employ avant-garde photographers or espouse socially conscious lyrics. But after two bubble-gum-pop albums that suggested Erasure had lost the race to industrial and techno acts, keyboardist Vince Clarke is back in form. So is singer Andy Bell, who sounds as if he's trying to establish himself as a male Judy Garland with Other People's Songs.
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While it's not everyone's idea of a comeback, the album actually has a damn solid foundation, forged by Clarke after a slow start with Depeche Mode producer Gareth Jones. The standout is a totally unexpected cover of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill," a song that catapulted the former Genesis frontman to acclaim and that Erasure nails to the wall. Also included are Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways," the '60s classic "Can't Help Falling in Love" and a murky rendition of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Bell delivers the latter with the emotional intensity of a bona fide torch singer. The collection ends with a too-precise cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star." But considering the song was the first to be broadcast on MTV, the robotic vocal -- with Bell flaming all over the backing track -- seems totally appropriate for an act born in the days of excess and boundless enthusiasm.