After the release of their previous studio album, Nightlife, it was originally planned that they would release a greatest hits collection in the autumn of 2000 with the two new tracks 'Positive Role Model' and 'Somebody Else's Business'. While recording the new songs for the hits collection it was decided to produce a full studio album instead.
The album marked a significant departure from previous work, being apparently guitar—and piano—driven. However the album was made like their previous albums with most tracks mainly programmed on computers; however the sampled or synthesized guitars and drum sounds chosen often sound "real" and the synthesizers always present are sometimes used to sound like guitars (the solo in 'Birthday Boy', for instance, or the opening figure of "Home and Dry"). Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr was brought in later on in the sessions to play real electric and acoustic guitars on seven of the album's ten tracks in London, with 'Home and Dry' being completed in Dublin, Ireland. Apart from the track 'London', recorded in Berlin with producer Chris Zippel, Pet Shop Boys produced the album themselves and then commissioned Michael Brauer (who mixed the first two albums by fellow Parlophone artists Coldplay) to mix it.
The album was released worldwide. In the UK and Europe, special edition packaging was issued, with the CD jewel case inside an embossed cardboard slipcase in one of four styles - grey poppy, blue marguerite, red orchid or pink rose. The jewel case itself was opaque white with the text printed in white ink.
In the USA, a special double-disc edition was released, the second disc of which contained b-sides and remixes not previously available on North American releases.
The album was given a remastered 'Further Listening' treatment in 2017 in a three-disc set, where the additional two discs contained b-sides, demos and previously unreleased material.