#435: Actually, Pet Shop Boys
As much as I love reading about inter-band drama, I love reading about inter-band harmony even more. Cue the Pet Shop Boys, who have never broken up, and are still releasing music together. God bless them.
The Pet Shop Boys had their finger on the pulse of Eighties queer club culture, and are generally kind of badass. Neil Tennant was a journalist for the UK’s pop magazine Smash Hits before meeting PSB keyboardist Chris Lowe. Then he came out as gay at age 40 in 1994, nearly a decade after this record came out. Later, he coined the term “imperial phase,” which refers to an artist’s creative and commercial peak. Also the actor David Tennant named himself after him.
Tennant might be giving a healthy yawn on this album cover, but don’t let him fool you: this album is trying to keep you up all night. Tennant’s voice isn’t particularly strong but there’s something addictive about it — the way he sings the chorus of “One More Chance” is forever stuck in my head, and so is “Hit Music.” I mean, Hit mew-zaaaak/ On the ride-eoooo. And check the sublime harmonies on “I Want To Wake Up.” In true Eighties fashion, some of the songs rang ridiculous to me until I heard them a few times. It’s hard to take the chorus of “Shopping” seriously the first time, but by the second I was singing S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G with them.
My favorite surprise was the duet with Dusty Springfield, whose star had fallen a bit since Dusty In Memphis. She sings on “What Have I Done to Deserve This.” How do you think Dusty’s warm, husky vocal works on a fizzy dance track? Surprisingly perfectly. Dusty sits on top of the beat like a princess. My other favorite was the dramatic “It’s a Sin,” which feels like it was ripped straight from Phantom of the Opera. (Fun fact, a British DJ claimed that they ripped off Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” I mean, I kind of hear it, but if Cat Stevens doesn’t care, why do you?)
Mostly, these are club bangers. But Tennant writes about the other side of the club scene too. “It Couldn’t Happen Here” is a heartache-inducing one about a friend who died of AIDS, and “King’s Cross” alludes to the AIDS crisis as well, from back when the London station was a hotbed of drugs and cruising. I will always have respect for when dance albums tackle topics like this.
Not every song was my favorite — the kept woman’s anthem “Rent” made me roll my eyes. But I have to tell you, I was NOT expecting to love this one as much as I did. If you had told me three years ago that I would fall in love with an Eighties dance album, I would have hit you. But now, I can’t get enough of this hit mew-zak.