Released last year in most of the world and only recently slipped into the United States, Various collects a suite of some of the most inventive and evocative music videos ever refused by MTV. The clip for "Go West," the Boys' post-idealistic take on the Village People's disco anthem (and, incidentally, the end of Communism) caused quite a stir in late 1993, when MTV rejected the lavish short out of hand. The "Go West" video is truly a marvel, and its failure to get stateside airplay is emblematic of MTV's take-no-chances approach to music. Bands like Bush and Silverchair get airplay because they sound exactly like proven hit product, and the PSB, who are making videos that look like nothing else on television, get the shaft.
Each of the six videos on Various is directed by Howard Greenhalgh, the guy responsible for Soundgarden's disturbing "Black Hole Sun" clip as well as such unsurprising (but no less distasteful) fare as Meat Loaf's new one. For the best of the PSB videos, Greenhalgh drops the duo into a complete computer-generated world that makes Singin' in the Rain look pallid. The bittersweet "Go West" -- which incidentally beat Goldeneye to the punch in its fetishized use of Soviet imagery to proclaim the death of an ideology -- features a choir of Speedo-clad joggers carrying torches and dancing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, which is here recast as a black woman as red stars ring her torch ("Are the Pet Shop Boys just too gay for MTV?" asked one of my more astute friends). "Can you forgive her?" pictures a more dangerous landscape with fluid geometrical shapes, cool blank surfaces turning suddenly spiky, and Chris Lowe (the one who doesn't sing) breathing strange orange bubbles. "I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing" was originally shown in 3-D, but remains eye-popping on a flat screen with the normally staid Lowe and vocalist Neil Tennant dancing in place, taking parts in a Mortal Kombat-style video game, and lording it over a neo-psychedelic landscape that includes a pair of shiny black vinyl clad go-go dancers.
Best of all is "Liberation," a completely abstracted vision of a love song, with computer representations of Tennant and Lowe floating through an animated outer space consisting of spinning, ejaculating planets, thousands of shards of colored light, and disembodied heads that give the very concept of liberation its ecstatic due. Tennant sings "Your love is liberation," and with the seat of his cerebellum given wings, Tennant's idea of liberation is visualized as not just an emotional, but also an intellectual one. Endlessly rich, "Liberation" has the capacity to pull a viewer into its world absolutely.
Two more videos are less successful. "Yesterday, when I was mad" is a little too mannered, with Tennant smiling happily in an asylum as a Nurse Ratched type looms over him among weird special effects (again, computer animated) that stand in for his psychoses. And "Absolutely Fabulous" is a lot of fun for fans of the band, but really doesn't consist of any more than Tennant and Lowe dancing about in white robes like the Popes of techno, with AbFab stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley cavorting mock-drunkenly around them. But on the strength of "Liberation" and "Go West" alone, this collection would be a must for anyone with an interest in the music video form, and especially for fans of the PSB.