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Most brothers of the groom use their best man’s speech as an excuse for some mild teasing and emotional childhood tales.

Hot gossip: Ten years of Popbitch

Just a decade ago, stars of stage, screen and TV had little to fear from the media. But when a young celebrity-obsessed couple launched a weekly gossip email, the game changed forever.

The Xmas Factor: What is it like to be a one-season, one-hit wonder?

Every year, pop stars vie for the Christmas number-one spot. Why? Because a good seasonal hit never dies... Nick Duerden meets the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future

Album: Pet Shop Boys, Christmas EP (Parlophone)

Given the over-subscribed portfolio of possible song choices usually involved, you can hardly blame the Pet Shop Boys for cutting their artistic losses and settling for a Christmas EP rather than a full album.

Album: Julian Koster, The Singing Saw at Christmastime (Merge)

If there's a danger of the Pet Shop Boys' glass-half-empty attitude putting a bit of a damper on the kids' Christmas spirits, then this could completely creep them out.

The Smiths are laughing all the way to the bank

New fanbase for Mancunian miserablists who split 22 years ago

Pet Shop Boys, O2 Arena, London

East End boys, West End pearls

Frankmusik - Bigger than hype

Vincent Frank, aka Frankmusik, has received plenty of positive press attention already, but he's confident that he doesn't need it. Rob Sharp meets an assured new talent

The Word On... Pet Shop Boys, the new album

"What the album 'Yes' lacks in dynamism, it makes up for in simple pop-song craft, and the set's ringers — the break-up number "The Way it Used to Be" and the melancholic "King of Rome" — are a match for any songs in their history." - Paul Isaacs, eyeweekly.com

Album: Pet Shop Boys, Yes, (Parlophone)

Just don't call it a return to form...

Album: Pet Shop Boys, Yes (EMI)



Three years on from the splendid Fundamental, the Pet Shop Boys have ditched producer Trevor Horn in favour of Brian Higgins's Xenomania team, in what seems like a brazen grab for something a little more teen-pop-conscious.

But, while the results offer perfectly acceptable revisions of standard PSB tropes, one can't help thinking it's all a bit underwhelming. The Xenomania collaboration seems at best unnecessary: it's not as if they couldn't have knocked out a lolloping electro-stomper like "Pandemonium" on their own – or, for that matter, most of the tracks. The main difference is that these performances are both slicker and less memorable than one would expect, while the lyrics, with one or two exceptions, are forgettable rehearsals of romantic clichés barely tweaked into life by Neil Tennant's wry wit. The exceptions again focus on what's getting lost: "Vulnerable" finds him complaining, albeit mildly, about "surviving in the public eye", while "Legacy" betrays the kind of unease at modern life that simply won't register on technophiliac pop kids' radars. Hardly surprising, then, that when he starts unspooling fond childhood memories of Albion in "Building a Wall", Chris Lowe should offer the sarky interjection, "Who'd you think you are – Captain Britain?"



Observations: Ballet gets electro-fied

Fresh from their Brit Award for Lifetime Achievement, electropop duo Pet Shop Boys have announced that they're working on a ballet. The new work, to be based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, will be staged at Sadler's Wells in 2011. Choreography will be by Javier de Frutos – until recently director of Phoenix Dance Theatre – with a scenario by writer and director Matthew Dunster. The Royal Ballet's Ivan Putrov is expected to dance a leading role. Two scenes have already been workshopped at Sadler's Wells.

David Lister: It’s only rock’n’roll, but I don’t like it

It was a glamorous, glitzy affair. Duffy’s smoky soul songs triumphed. The crowd went crazy. The pair from Gavin and Stacey seemed an imaginative choice to host the event alongside Kylie Minogue. The Pet Shop Boys gave a superb performance. And there were welcome cameos from Estelle, the Ting Tings and Brandon Flowers of the Killers. Even Girls Aloud sounded almost as good as they looked. Almost.

High fashion at the Brits

From James Corden and Mathew Horne's red and black rubber outfits as Kylie Minogue's backing dancers, to Duffy's plunging red gown while performing Warwick Avenue, outfits wowed at the Brits.

A night of triumph at the Brits for Duffy

Best British album among singer’s awards

Boney M, the B-side hit, and a tale of record label shenanigans

With their gold-lamé suits and leopard-skin posing pouches, Boney M helped bring a much-needed touch of the exotic to Britain in the gloomy, crisis-hit days of the late 1970s. And for the scantily clad, German-manufactured disco stars, 1978 was to be their high-water mark, a year in which they sold more than three million singles in the UK as well as notching up a platinum album.

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Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain