Pet Shop Boys

1991: EMI CDP-7-97097-2

  1. West End Girls
  2. Love Comes Quickly
  3. Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)
  4. Suburbia
  5. It’s a Sin
  6. What Have I Done to Deserve This?
  7. Rent
  8. Always on My Mind
  9. Heart
  10. Domino Dancing
  11. Left to My Own Devices
  12. It’s Alright
  13. So Hard
  14. Being Boring
  15. Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes off You)
  16. Jealousy
  17. DJ Culture
  18. Was It Worth It?

For some reason I’ve never gotten into the Pet Shop Boys sound. Something about it—maybe Neil Tennant’s nasality, maybe the overkill of electronica, maybe too much deadpan campiness—has always made me slightly uncomfortable with it. Adding this compilation to my library in mid-2008 took some effort, but there were three tracks I really did want badly. The rest I shall ignore.

“West End Girls” is a magical snapshot of early-1980s London taken with cinematic lens…the shifting synth chords at the beginning and ending mesmerize me in a way much like the record-shop scene of “Parting Glances” does (although it’s Bronski Beat’s “Love and Money” playing in that case) or the soundtrack of the 1985 West German film “Westler—East of the Wall.”. There’s a sort of dangerous, shadowy metropolitan gay world lurking among those chords and in the choruses’ conclusions with those iconic bass-synth notes. That the verses are essentially rapped doesn’t even faze me (although the lyrics really don’t say anything, come to think of it)…but again Tennant’s voice and the absurdity of trying to take his hissy esses seriously does.

I only heard “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” peripherally some years after its release, and not being British I was only distantly familiar with Dusty Springfield’s voice and fame, so it didn’t quite register as a likeable track, for me. The chorus’s conclusion, as with “West End Girls,” has a superb hook made even stronger by the gorgeous pairing of Springfield’s voice with Tennant’s on those dreamy harmonic thirds atop a deep and dark resolution pattern. If I’d seen the video for it back then I would have probably reacted differently to Annie Lennox’s Diva—both the album cover and the videos for “Why” and “The Gift”—as she’s in a showgirl costume of the same design as those worn in this song’s video (which is a pretty good video, by the way, although Springfield looks more mid-’80s than even Tennant’s hairdo).

Those were the two tracks I wanted for specific sonic/musical mood and evocation; “Being Boring” snuck in the door while I was indulging in them, sweet-talking its way in via its Bruce-Weber-filmed video. The combination of the lyrics and their inferences as embodied in the video makes me cry when I listen to this song, whereas with the “Deadbeat Club” B-52’s video I merely get wistful and bittersweet. I think that’s because the latter is nostalgic but the former is heavy with the sense of both rarity and loss. But its best line, its most magical and crucial element, really, is the phrase “I bolted through a closing door.” That is a superb allegorical dagger.