May 10, 2011

Pet Shop Boys: Battleship Potemkin + Concrete

Two Pet Shop Boys albums will finally be released in the USA: the 2006 live 2CD Concrete and the 2005 soundtrack for the Eisenstein's masterpiece Battleship Potemkin.

The English dance duo are a vital part in the emergence of the UK electronic dance music scene. Their output have been sampled to death and the deadpan delivery of singer Niel Tennant, who often discards singing as such and switches to spoken word and tongue-in-cheek rap is instantly recognizable, while Chris Lowe comes up with their signature keyboard sound.

Dance music isn't played live. MIDI is the weapon of choice and let the computers take care of it, which can be pretty boring in terms of stage presence. On both albums they are joined by an orchestra.

Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin
Recorded with the Dresdner Sinfoniker conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer, Tennant and Lowe wrote a new score for the silent film classic about the rebellion of the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime in 1905. The soundtrack made its live debut at a free concert at Trafalgar Square in London in 2004. Since then there were stagings in Germany, Spain and the UK.

Eisenstein's movie is considered tho be one of the most influential films of all time, most notably the staircase sequence, with marching Tsarist soldiers and a baby in a carriage falling down the stairs. The Pet Shop Boys watched the movie over and over and follow the five parts, often naming the tracks after them. In terms of music the orchestration by Torsten Rasch, a blend of Russian melancholy and anger, and big noise German brouhaha, serves as wavering blanket on top of the icy basic tracks supplied by the UK duo. Throw in a DVD of the movie and cue up to the soundtrack which was described at the time by Tennant as "not so much background music as foreground music". As a stand alone piece, the music can hold its own, so there is nor reason to panic for listeners who are not familiar with early 20th Century Russian revolutionary propaganda movies.

  1. 'Comrades!'
  2. Men and Maggots
  3. Our Daily Bread
  4. Drama in the Harbour
  5. Nyet
  6. To the Shore
  7. Odessa
  8. No Time for Tears
  9. To the Battleship
  10. After all The Odessa Staircase
  11. Stormy Meetings
  12. Night Falls
  13. Full Steam Ahead
  14. The Squadron
  15. For Freedom
Pet Shop Boys: Concrete

For Concrete, their first ever official live album, an extravaganza was staged on May 8, 2006 at the Mermaid Theatre in London with the BBC Concert Orchestra and three guest vocalists. The Pet Shop Boys only performed songs form their back catalog that were ochestratd before, the only exception being West End Girls and It's a Sin who were orchestrated for the show.

Although they put on a solid performance, something is missing. The orchestra doesn't sound as grandiose as to be expected. The ensemble comes off as highly competent, but lifeless extension to the music. Leave it to musical director Trevor Horn to strangle any note with a pulse. Guests singers Rufus Wainwright and Robbie Williams are professionals who can slip into their designated roles, with Williams rising to the occasion and Wainwright overdoing the irony of his song. Actress Frances Barber should stick to acting, sounding off like a teacher craving for the limelight during a particularly boring school musical.

So it's all bad then? Well, most of it is superfluous. On the upside are the Liza Minneli cover Rent, a raucous The Sodom and Gomorrah Show, the rave up Krautrock disco Integral and the aforementioned Williams' tackling of Jealousy.

CD 1
  1. Left to My Own Devices
  2. Rent
  3. You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk
  4. The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
  5. Casanova in Hell (Rufus Wainwright)
  6. After All
  7. Friendly Fire (Frances Barber)
  8. Integral
  1. Numb
  2. It's Alright
  3. Luna Park
  4. Nothing Has Been Proved
  5. Jealousy (Robbie Williams)
  6. Dreaming of the Queen
  7. It's a Sin
  8. Indefinite Leave to Remain
  9. West End Girls

Battleship Potemkin, and Concrete are released in the USA on Astral Werks. Release date: May 17th.


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