Format is another well titled album from the Pet Shop Boys. The double CD picks up from where previous compilation Alternative left off, collecting B-sides, and bonus tracks from all their singles during the period 1996-2009.
Many of these tracks would have appeared on cassette singles, CD singles, DVD singles and there are even some that were only ever available to download.
Unfortunately, this strictly chronological compilation gets off to a bad start with the appalling The Truck Driver And His Mate. It’s a mess – self-acknowledged ‘euphoric rock’ with a horrible synth electric guitar that sounds a bit like that cheap Yamaha keyboard that your mum bought you from the back of Kays catalogue when you were a kid.
Truck Driver was featured on the Before single (from the underrated 1996 Bilingual album) and just goes to show that despite some really high quality bonus tracks, the boys are more than capable of dropping the ball.
In fact, disc one of this compilation is surprisingly patchy. In The Night ’95 and Discoteca (New Version) are simple inferior versions of the originals and Confidential (a demo for Tina Turner) is rather average, reminding you how good In Private and Nothing Has Been Proved for Dusty Springfield were.
Some of the better moments include the Latino sound of The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On and The Ghost Of Myself a song clearly ‘inspired by’ Britney’s Baby One More Time.
Disc Two is a significant improvement, starting atmospherically with Neil Tenant deliberately tweaking the auto-tune button on Always, a song that has the yearning spirit of many of the Behaviour tracks from ten years earlier.
Searching For The Face Of Jesus is a quirky delight, and We’re The Pet Shop Boys is hilarious, a self referential bit of fluff that gets the full Chris Lowe Paninaro-style vocoder treatment. The fact that they didn’t write it themselves simply adds to the fun.
Johnny Marr features on three tracks, and one of them, I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today, is best described as Monkees meets Reggie Perrin. It was originally on the B-side of 2004 PopArt single Flamboyant.
The Fundamental period tracks (2006) are all strong, and After The Event from 2009 has a classic Pet Shop Boys production with a creepy lyric.
2CDs containing 38 B-sides is naturally going to be somewhat variable, and this is certainly the case in terms of both the quality of the songs and the production. Something about the second half of the ’90s just did not bring out the best in the Pet Shop Boys non-album excursions, making the first disc something of a disappointment. But as we enter the new millennium things pick up dramatically and even though the 18 tracks on disc two are still varied in style – Broadway musical, guitar pop, electro dance – they songwriting is much more consistent. Also, if you happen to be amongst those fans who had given up keeping track of, or buying, all the various formats, then the unfamiliarity of the music definitely helps take the enjoyment factor up a notch.
The fact that EMI have brought this set in at under a tenner removes the need to spent too much time debating whether to purchase. Even if you share the view that it is only half good, it still represents great value, especially as the booklet contains a Jon Savage interview where Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe entertainingly talk us through every track on the album. The CDs come in two card sleeves housed in the now familiar EMI lid-off box (see pictures).