Pet Shop Boys, Critically (8)


As promised, a few snippets from Barry Walters’s Voice review of Please, dated June 3, 1986. There’s a lot of funny and interesting stuff in this review, and it’s tricky quoting bits from it sans context — much of the review is centered around the then-merely perceived notion of the Pet Shop Boys’s gayness — so I’ll limit my sampling to specific bits which hopefully won’t require too much additional cross-explanation.

“I don’t know if the Pet Shop Boys are gay. If not, they should be, judging from Please, a top 10 hit. They aren’t of the Boy George I’m-so-camp-I’m-sexless variety. Nor do they wear bondage gear like early Frankie or fishnet stockings over their faces like Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Their look is post-clone gay-next-door. The Boys could pass for straight, but their record collection gives them away. They used to be big fans of Bobby Orlando, who produced hits for Flirts, Waterfront Home, and Divine, as well as the original version of their own ‘West End Girls.’ Nowadays Pet Shop Boys are to hiphop what the Bee Gees were to disco, but with brains.”

{It’s remarkable, in a way, just how forgotten is the fact that “West End Girls” was a white UK version of — in 1986, apparently un-hyphenated — hiphop (though not the first; “Wham Rap,” anyone?), perhaps because the song’s obvious disco underpinnings muddied the waters a bit. (Tennant has said repeatedly that he had “The Message” and The Waste Land in mind.) The Bee Gees “but with brains” line is a triumph, and should’ve been cited in the Pets’ ad copy.}

“The songs on Please are about love, lust, making money, and watching civilization decay. Their music isn’t the Jesus and Mary Chain, but neither is it Howard Jones.”

{Which do you choose, the hard or soft option? The Jesus and Mary Chain reference is entirely apt, but it seems so bizarre to me now to think that Please and Psychocandy occupied the same universe at roughly the same time; one of these records feels to me like it was recorded yesterday, the other feels like it was recorded… well, 28 years ago. I still love parts of Psychocandy, actually, but it hasn’t felt like a part of the present since the year it was released.}

“Things can’t only get better, but to the Pet Shop Boys, sticking together helps. Songs like ‘Two Divided by Zero’ and ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’ are classic cases of boy bonding, and you can imagine vocalist, ex-Smash Hits writer Neil Tennant singing them to his buddy on keyboards, Chris Lowe. On the spoken verses, Tennant’s sinuously prissy diction suggests a private school lad gone bad. When he sings the choruses, his thin, vibratoless tenor resembles Al ‘Year of the Cat’ Stewart.”

{Tennant quickly established his vocal gifts — “vibratoless” is apt, and part of the appeal — so the Stewart comparison, frequent in ’86 and ’87, didn’t follow him around forever.}

“Viewed as a straight love song, ‘Why Don’t We Live Together?’ updates Al Green’s ‘Let’s Get Married.’ Heard as a plea of devotion from one man to another, the song’s domestic dream becomes daringly political, even revolutionary. Maybe I want the Pet Shop Boys to be something they’re not. Yet after countless tales of woe and sleaze from smalltown boys not glad to be gay but still selling a walk on the wild side, I can’t help but get excited by a man who wants to settle down and get down too.”

“…smalltown boys not glad to be gay but still selling a walk on the wild side…” Wonderful stuff! It’s interesting to compare Walters’ 1986 are-they-or-aren’t-they comments on this song with Alfred Soto’s insistence, in 2013 (from our first PSB podcast*) that “Live Together” seals the deal on the question of their gayness.

More Voice/PSB throwdowns to come.

* And BTW, there will be more PSB podcasts eventually. Alfred and I recorded a fourth, with a special guest, which we had to scrap because the audio quality was so bad. but we hope to re-do it again, and we have others in line also. The whole thing is held up right now by technical (and employment) issues, but hopefully we’ll be back with some chats in the not-too-distant future.

One thought on “Pet Shop Boys, Critically (8)

  1. I’m gonna hope to address the implicit reference to Bronski Beat soon; I’m in the middle of writing a long essay for publication on Jimmy Somerville. Thanks for the review. Most helpful.

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