AlternativeFormat

Released - 2012
Chart peak - UK #26 (didn't chart in US)

Visitors' rating (plurality): ★★★★☆
Visitors' rating (rounded average): ★★★☆☆
Wayne's rating: ★★★☆☆

These star-ratings reflect how PSB albums compare to each other—not how they compare to albums by other artists. Remember than an "average" (three-star) PSB album is, at least as far as I'm concerned, an excellent album by pop/rock standards in general.

The Pet Shop Boys' second collection of single b-sides and bonus tracks covers the years 1996-2009—that is, most of the period since the release of their first such collection, Alternative. It was released in the U.K. and many other countries in February 2012; a definite U.S. release date has not yet been announced.

Apparently expressing a desire to hold the release to two CDs (like Alternative), they needed to leave off several single bonus tracks that might otherwise have made the cut—a move that had the inevitable effect of displeasing some of their fans. The deletions, however, are fairly understandable. For instance, "Positive Role Model" had previously appeared on Disco 3 in a mix identical to the b-side. By contrast, tracks on Format that had also appeared on previous albums did so in very different versions, such as "Sexy Northerner," the Disco 3 rendition of which was startlingly unlike (and blatantly inferior to) the b-side original. Meanwhile, "Je T'Aime… Moi Non Plus" and "Sail Away" had also appeared in an identical form on previous albums. Although these albums happened to be various-artists collections, the reason for the absence of those two songs from Format becomes even clearer when you consider they aren't Tennant-Lowe originals. (The only non-original included on Format is, ironically, "We're the Pet Shop Boys.") Finally, a few other single bonus tracks—"Girls and Boys," "Glad All Over," and "I Cried for Us" (all three of which also happen to be covers)—were excluded because they were released outside the targeted date-range for Format (which, admittedly, was probably selected precisely to facilitate fitting the songs onto two CDs).

As soon as the album's title was announced, fans began debating its merits and speculating as to its pertinence. One of the most common theories as to why the album is titled Format is that it's a reference to the fact that these songs are now being made available in an alternate format: that is, a full-fledged album of their own. Other felt that it might allude to the various formats in which they're available: CD singles, electronic downloads, and now CD album. As it turns out, these speculations weren't too far off the mark.

As revealed in the July 2012 issue of their fan club publication Literally, the title was initially Chris's idea, inspired by seeing the word "Format" inscribed in large letters on the side of an industrial building somewhere in Scandinavia. He immediately thought that it would make a good album title. Neil discussed their subsequent rationalization of the choice in an interview with Australian journalist Chris Honnery, conducted in December 2011 in anticipation of their New Year's Eve performance in Sydney. "We called it Format because when you release a single, you have what the record company calls 'format'." [Honnery pointed out that this was in reference to the shift through the years from releasing 7-inch vinyl singles to digital singles packages.] Neil continued, "These formats enable you to use the songs you write that you're not going to put on the album.… When you're doing something as a b-side you don't have any sense of constraint whatsoever; nobody's going to say 'They're not going to play that on the radio' because they're not meant to be played on the radio. Sometimes they are more eccentric songs, and sometimes they're more dark or macabre kind of songs. They're the songs aren't really meant to be mainstream Pet Shop Boys."

Just as mystifying to fandom as the title was the graphic design of the package. But once again the advance speculations of at least some fans proved essentially correct. As the Boys' perennial designer Mark Farrow confirmed in January 2012 to the Creative Review website, "The composition on the box is a graphic representation of all the spines of all 38 of the b-sides and bonus tracks included on the compilation.… Every stripe represents the spine of the original release format on which each of the songs was included." So the album's title and its graphic artwork are very much "in synch"—hardly a surprise given the meticulous attention Neil and Chris have always paid to the graphics associated with their music.

Because all of the album's songs have been included in my past "Rating Project" polls, I'm able to list the following "top picks":

Top Picks by Voter Ratings

  1. No Time for Tears
  2. Delusions of Grandeur
  3. Always

Wayne's Top Picks

  1. I Didn't Get Where I Am Today
  2. The Resurrectionist
  3. The Truck Driver and His Mate

Note: The links below for "In the Night," "Discoteca,""Sexy Northerner," and "No Time for Tears" will take you to the sections for the albums Alternative, Bilingual, Disco 3, and Battleship Potemkin, respectively. Please keep this in mind for "navigational" purposes.