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Disappointed. Not Disappointed

Like many of the tracks released by the constituent parts of the group that created it, Disappointed by Electronic was released as a standalone single, a gap-plugger that sated the appetite of their fans in the period between the first two albums. A fantastic gap-plugger it was too.

Bernard Sumner’s New Order were awfully fond of (perhaps even hell-bent on) ensuring singles stayed off of albums. Ceremony, Temptation and Everything’s Gone Green didn’t make it to Movement and Blue Monday, Confusion and Thieves Like Us didn’t appear on the chronologically closest Power, Corruption And Lies, although by the time of Low-Life, lead single The Perfect Kiss was a central part of the album and from then-on in, a good proportion all of their singles were used to promote a parent album.

Johnny Marr’s Smiths gave great value for money, regularly releasing one-off singles that would eventually appear as 33 rpm tracks on compilation albums further down the line; How Soon Is Now? (originally a b-side), Shakespeare’s Sister, Heaven Knows…, William…, Panic, Ask. All started life spinning at 45rpm.

Pet Shop Boys were perhaps the more conventional of the trio. On a major label they maybe didn’t have the same clout that an indie band might have on a small label (though what do I know?) and accordingly, almost all of their singles, in that imperial run from West End Girls and Love Comes Quickly through So Hard and Being Boring to 1991’s DJ Culture and Was It Worth It? were taken from their studio albums of the time.

(Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

Disappointed is very much a product of its time and place. Chronologically, it was written around the end of 1991, when Johnny was between The The projects and just before Bernard returned to New Order to record Republic. Despite being patchy in parts (and that’s a whole other blog post), the last decent album in New Order’s original form gave us Regret, arguably the last truly great New Order single; soaring and melancholic, built on a bed of asthmatic guitar and hard-wired technology, and, from the negatively-leaning titles in, you can draw a straight line between that New Order track and Electronic’s 4th single.

ElectronicDisappointed (7″ mix)

By the end of 1991, Pet Shop Boys had amassed 19 hit singles to their name (pop quiz – name them!) Anything they touched turned to sold and gold. They were the masters at minor key pop, “The Smiths you can dance to,” as Tennant famously said at the time. Arriving on a bed of synth washes and era-defining Italo house piano – conceived by Johnny’s brother Ian – Disappointed‘s hookiness (not Hooky-ness) is immediate and immersive, mainly due to Neil Tennant’s cooing ah-ah-aah refrain.

Three seconds in and it sounds like the greatest Pet Shop Boys hit that never was. Tennant employed all the best PSB tricks; minor key melancholy, smoothed-out spoken word in the verses, flying like a kite in the chorus, those earworming ah-ah-aahs and pulsing glacial synths to the fore.

It worked. On release in July ’92, the single climbed to number 6 on the UK charts, kept out of the top 5 by Mariah Carey’s helium-voiced take on the Jackson’s I’ll Be There. Ironically enough, the b-side to Disappointed was a remix of Idiot Country.

If you know your Euro-pop, and I’m sure many of you do, you’ll be aware that Tennant tips more than the brim of his trilby to Mylène Farmer’s Désenchantée single, a massive hit on the continent in 1991. It’s there in the smoothed-out synthesizers and mid-paced feel, the down-played vocal delivery in the verses and restrained euphoria in the chorus. I don’t think it’s a coincidence either that Tennant ‘borrowed’ her ‘Désenchantée/Disenchanted‘ lyric for his own chorus. Most of us in the UK would’ve been oblivious of this at the time (perhaps even Bernard and Johnny too), a fact I’m sure the pop boffin Neil would’ve been banking on.

Seemingly content to take more of a back seat at the time, Johnny has an understated role in the single. He breaks into full-on Nile Rodgers funk for most of it, riffing across the top 3 strings like he hadn’t done since 1985’s Boy With The Thorn In His Side, his right hand rattlin’ the rhythm while his left shapes the funk, but contribution-wise, Disappointed is probably 45% Neil, 35% Bernard and 20% Johnny. The sum is greater than its parts though. It’s a great single, almost a lost single really, given the ubiquity of Getting Away With It and its not-quite-as-good follow-up Get The Message, but one that deserves reappraisal.

ElectronicDisappointed (original mix)

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Live!, Most downloaded tracks

2018 (Slight Return)

As is the way at this time of year, lists, polls and Best Of countdowns prevail. Happily stuck in the past, the truth of it is I’m not a listener of much in the way of new music. Idles seem to dominate many of the lists I’ve seen, and I want to like them, but I can’t get past the singer’s ‘angry ranting man in a bus shelter’ voice. I’ve liked much of the new stuff I’ve heard via 6 Music and some of the more switched-on blogs I visit, but not so much that I’ve gone out to buy the album on the back of it.

If you held a knife to my throat though, I might admit to a liking for albums by Parquet Courts and Arctic Monkeys, both acts who are neither new nor up and coming. I  listened a lot to the Gwenno album when it was released and I should’ve taken a chance on the Gulp album when I saw it at half price last week, but as far as new music goes, I think that’s about it. Under his Radiophonic Tuckshop moniker, Glasgow’s Joe Kane made a brilliant psyche-infused album from the spare room in his Dennistoun flat – released on the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label – so if I were to suggest anything you might like, it’d be Joe’s lo-fi McCartney by way of Asda-priced synth pop that I’d direct you to. Contentiously, it’s currently a tenner on Amazon which, should you buy it via them, is surely another nail in the HMV coffin.

2018 saw the readership of Plain Or Pan continue to grow slowly but steadily in a niche market kinda style, so if I may, I’d like to point you and any new readers to the most-read posts of the year. You may have read these at the time or you may have missed them. Either way, here they are again;

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  • An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.
  • Songs about snow and inclement weather.
  • Some words on the punk Beatles. Pete Shelley was very much still alive at the time of writing and retweeted the article.
  • A look at how the best reggae musicians steal the best soul tunes and make them their own.
  • Lush’s Miki Berenyi talks us through some of her favourite music. The most-read thing wot I wrote this year.
  • Stephen Sondheim , Leonard Bernstein, Tom Waits and Pet Shop Boys. Here.
  • First thoughts on Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
  • Why Eno‘s Here Come The Warm Jets should be in everyone’s record collection. Here.
  • Skids’ Richard Jobson waxes lyrical about Bowie. Here.
  • Some words on the quiet majesty of Radiohead‘s How To Disappear Completely.
  • Brendan O’Hare, loon drummer and all-round public entertainer in Teenage Fanclub chooses his favourite Teenage Fanclub tracks. Here.
  • The punk poetry and free scatting jazz of Patti Smith. Here.
  • A first-timer’s guide to Rome.
  • Johnny Marr live at the Barrowlands.

Feel free to re-read, Retweet, share etc.

 

See you next year.

Hard-to-find

Peace And Quiet And Open Air

Somewhere was written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and soundtracks arguably the most famous sections of West Side Story. Bernstein based parts of the music on Beethoven’s ‘Emperor‘ Piano Concerto*. Sondheim constructed a lyric that offered hope out of despair. In the musical, the song appears twice, first as a celebration of Tony and Maria’s against-the-odds love for one another and secondly towards the end when Maria sings it – spoiler alert! – as she holds her shot and dying boyfriend in her arms. I’m not a musicals kinda guy, although Grease is indeed the word, but it isn’t hard to appreciate the soaring melancholy of Somewhere. I’ve no idea how the rest of West Side Story is soundtracked, but I suspect it’s not for me. Somewhere though will always be in my ever-changing and expanding list of favourite songs.

Tom Waits takes the song and makes it crawl in slow motion like a couple of Bowery bums from the grubby and well-thumbed pages of a charity shop Bukowski novel. He’s gargled a gallon of gravel and phlegm, downed a litre of brown paper-wrapped liquor and turned Somewhere into a tear and piss-soaked anthem of hope for down on their luck drinkers everywhere.

Tom WaitsSomewhere

The original’s vision of hope over despair is magnified tenfold in Waits’ version, two drinkers looking for a way out of their sorry existence. Strings swirl with Disney-like flourishes. Waits’ vocal is fantastic, his phrasing and intonation bang on. Is he in character or is it for real? Who knows? There’s no doubt though that he’s singing from the heart. This is soul music, just not as you know it. “We’ll find a new way of living,” he croaks. “We’ll find a way of forgiving.”  It’s depressingly sad and sky-scrapingly brilliant all at the same time.

Waits’ version was recorded initially for his Blue Valentine album, an album you really should investigate if it’s unfamiliar to you. He’s a bit of a genius is our Tom, although I suspect you knew that already.

In sharp contrast, Pet Shop Boys reclaim Somewhere as a day-glo gay anthem to rival that of their own take on Go West. If it’s near-11 minute dance remixes y’r after, look no further than the full-length treatment afforded to it.

Pet Shop BoysSomewhere (full length 10.54 version)

A bit of random Chris Lowe chatter, a sprinkling of West Side Story’s I Feel Pretty and a date-defining trip hop shuffle eventually give way to the thump, thump, thump!!! as Pet Shop Boys’ disco machine shifts slickly through the gears towards the track’s conclusion. Fairlights crash and synthetic strings sweep in trademark PSB fashion. The Smiths you can dance to, as they famously quipped.

We’ll find a new way of living,” announces Neil Tennant in that slightly smug, slightly knowing way of his. “We’ll find a way of forgiving.” By the end, doubts have been cast aside, bags have been packed and we’re all in line, “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” following Tennant and Lowe, marching to the beat of their 808 to a wondrous new place.

 

*As I typed this article I listened to all 43 minutes of Beethoven’s Concerto No5: Emperor (complete) and I must be honest, to these philistine rockist ears, I failed to spot where Bernstein borrowed the music. Maybe your ears are more refined. It’s here if y’fancy it.