Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

PET SHOP BOYS

One of the most successful duos in pop history met in a Kings Road electronics shop '81. Smash Hits journalist Neil Tennant (b 10 July 1954, Gosforth) began to record demos with architect Chris Lowe (b 4 October 1959, Blackpool) in a bid to emulate the excitement of contemporary U.S. dance music; to this end they collaborated with New York hi-energy eminence Bobby 'O' Orlando. After mixed success with their first two singles they hit the jackpot with a remixed version of their debut 'West End Girls' (no. 1 UK and US early '86, this and all subsequent on Parlophone/EMI America). Their winning blend of thoughtful lyrics, haunting synth melodies and up-to-the-minute dance beat was maintained without apparent effort for the next ten years (pre-'92 singles collected on the superb Discography). Their singles peaked with three UK no. ones '87-8 including 'Always On My Mind', but their albums Please '86, Actually '87, Introspective '88, Behaviour '90 (all UK top five) were increasingly coherent and sophisticated, culminating in a richly deserved no. 1 for tour-de-force Very '93. Bilingual '96 was another, about which Andrew Smith wrote in The Sunday Times, 'You can dance your feet off, then discuss the lyrics on your way home. This is Pet Shop Boys' essence.'

At their first live gig their vocals had accidentally been included on their backing tape, leaving them on stage with nothing to do; but subsequent lavish touring spectacles elicited comparison with both light opera legends Gilbert and Sullivan and conceptual art mavericks Gilbert and George. Their intelligence was often mistaken for disengagement, but their best work was emotionally intense. Their commitment to aesthetic justice in pop music led to a parallel career reactivating fading divas Patsy Kensit, Dusty Springfield and Liza Minnelli: they produced and wrote songs for Minnelli's album Results '89; when she appeared on Top Of The Pops singing Sondheim's 'Losing My Mind' Tennant told her, 'Don't smile, whatever you do. We don't smile in rock'n'roll.' (Not grinning when he told her that was no doubt also part of the act.) 'How I love their songs,' she said later: 'They're Aznavourian, almost. Dynamite to sing, and very character-oriented, which I love.' Pet Shop Boys, Literally '90 by Chris Heath was a better-than-average pop book. The boys were working on an original musical show '97 with playwright Jonathan Harvey, and Tennant was producing an album of modern covers of Noël Coward songs for the Red Hot AIDS Trust.

They were still at it in the next century. Their 11th studio album Elysium (2012)was also the first recorded in Los Angeles. They wanted a slick sound, pulling a lot of things together; Tennat said, 'Pop today is often this dialectic between hip-hop and Euro-cheese--really tacky German-Swedish pop music...' If anyone is interested in pop today, Tennant and Lowe will probably do something interesting.