Pet Shop Boys Concrete

Live albums are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The audience interference, the occasional miscue or bum note, and the awareness that this in fact not cut in a studio can all contribute to an unfulfilling audio experience. But the first live album by pop music’s most stylish duo is an extraordinary achievement in capturing the artist in their element. Recorded specifically at London’s Mermaid Theatre earlier this year, Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant were joined by the BBC Concert Orchestra for a shining one-off performance that was beautifully recorded by long-time collaborator Trevor Horn. Inviting guests such as Rufus Wainwright, Frances Barber and Robbie Williams, the Pet Shop Boys travel through a set list calculated for the orchestra, while Tennant entertains in between songs as an MC with notable tidbits. Beginning with the breathtaking strings of "Left to My Own Devices,” Concrete is a career-defining document of these significant musicians. Wainwright adds his own dramatic flair to "Casanova in Hell” in an alliance that deserves to occur more often; "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” sweats with show tune vigour and sexual depravity; and "It’s a Sin” packs more of a flamboyant punch than it ever did. Of course, it’s unmistakably a live album — you can hear the audience, "West End Girls” fails to live up to its potential or even build on the original, and well, Williams has never been the strongest vocalist — but this is as good as these get. The Pet Shop Boys have turned the live recording into a special treat. (EMI)