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.
Release was the least commercially successful of all Pet Shop Boys albums to date, though still managed to sell 800,000 copies worldwide. In the UK it charted at number 7, in Germany at number 3. On its first release, a limited run of metallic effect embossed sleeves were available in a choice of four colours: grey, blue, pink or red. In the USA, this limited run also came with a bonus CD including remixes and new tracks. The artwork was designed by Greg Foley of the New York design group and magazine publishers Visionaire and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.
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 synthesised guitars and drum sounds chosen often sound "real" and the synthesisers 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. 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 original version of the album had eleven tracks but "I Didn't Get Where I Am Today" was removed from the album before release and later became a bonus track on the 2004 single "Flamboyant". Other tracks recorded during the sessions for the album which ended up as B-sides are "Between Two Islands", "Searching for the Face of Jesus", "Sexy Northerner" and "Always". Another track, "Time on My Hands", appeared on the 2003 release, Disco 3.
Perhaps partly because of the modest commercial success of this album, and perhaps partly because of the habit of distancing themselves musically from their most recent work, Tennant and Lowe have since returned to their dance roots. One year after the release of Release, Pet Shop Boys released Disco 3 which included remixes of some of the songs from Release along with new material that they were working on at the time of writing/producing material for Release.