PSB's second B-side compilation is very good, obviously, though not quite as good as Alternative. The biggest difference to me is that the element of discovery is absent here. When I bought Alternative in 1995, nearly every track was new for me. Those B-sides would have been very difficult to find in the pre-commercial internet age, especially in the United States. You would have spent an enormous amount of time and money ordering import singles. So Alternative was just a godsend for PSB fanatics; we were offered two whole discs of songs that many people probably didn't know existed.
But Format covers a different era. I think most PSB fans will already know many if not most of the tracks here. There were only a few that I hadn't heard. With Bilingual in 1996, PSB started a policy of two-disc releases for all new albums that included associated B-sides and remixes on the second disc. Those versions were limited-run, but they were widely available in the US. Certainly not every track on Format was available on a double-CD release, but many were. On the other hand, it's great to have all these tracks in one collection.
Anyway, the music here is mostly great. PSB were quick to point out on Alternative that not every track was good; there were some truly bad songs there, as there are here. But the good-to-bad ratio is high and approximately equal to that album. And like Alternative, the great thing about these tracks is that PSB experimented and stretched out. The best tracks here come from the later years. My favourites in no order:
- How I Learned to Hate Rock & Roll
- The Boy Who Couldn't Keep His Clothes On
- The View From Your Balcony (one of their all-time best B-sides)
- Silver Age
- Always (a truly great track; seems to be one of NT's favourites too)
- Nightlife (great outtake from that album)
- Between Two Islands
- We're the Pet Shop Boys (ironically a cover)
- Transparent (energetic tech-house)
- The Resurrectionist
- Girls Don't Cry
- Gin and Jag (PSB's ode to aging. Favourite line: "Be careful with the decanter, dear. Do you know how much it's worth?")
- After the Event (the lyrics are so great and so PSB)
- Up and Down
Ultimately, PSB fans are quite blessed. PSB are just a machine that cranks out an endless supply of great new pop songs. There's a lot of music to work through here, and it really allows the listener a good idea the breadth and quality of music that PSB are capable of.