Parlophone – 2002 – 45 minutes

The linking up of the Pet Shop Boys and guitarist Johnny Marr may seem a little strange on first thoughts, but when you cast your mind back and remember that Neil Tenant contributed the vocals to Electronic's sublime 'Getting Away With It' 12 years ago, the surprise isn't so great. Don't expect rockouts though, because despite Johnny's amps, 'Release' is unmistakable Boys' own territory. But while it contains some truly wonderful moments, overall it's just a little too predictable to be considered a standout album.

On the big plus side it starts with the long distance love of 'Home', one of the best songs they've ever written and the perfect union of Tenant's vocals and Marr's understated guitars. Unfortunately it's diluted by 'I Get Along', a song which borrows the classic Hoagy Carmichael payoff line but sounds like an even more mediocre Oasis. Thereafter, 'Release' heads for the comfort zone and breezes by with chilly synths ('The Samurai in Winter'), charm-anyone pop ('E-Mail') and regretful introspection ('Love is a Catastrophe').

And then, just when you think you've got the whole thing figured out, comes a song which mixes humour, genius and one of the best arrangements in years. 'The Night I Fell in Love' chronicles an imaginary gay encounter with Emimem and is so witty and catchy ("Over breakfast made jokes about Dre and his homies and folks") that it renders all other criticism of the rapper redundant.

It's followed by another great Boys/Marr collaboration on 'You Choose' and as the song fades out you're left wondering why the rest of the album couldn't have been as strong as this, 'Home' and the Eminem lampooning. Hopefully Messrs Tenant, Lowe and Marr will hook up again for the next album because when they hit form here they can make you laugh and cry for all the right reasons.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Home and Dry - I Get Along - Birthday Boy - London - E-Mail - The Samurai in Autumn - Love is a Catastrophe - Here - The Night I Fell in Love - You Choose