The long-running electro-pop duo release their 13th album, Super, on 1 April. Rachel Extance can’t wait.
The first time I heard the Pet Shop Boys, I was six years old. My brother was home from university and had his own stereo. Only two songs he played at that time have stuck in my mind: Yellow Submarine (allegedly for my benefit) and Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money). It led to a lifelong love of all things Pet Shop Boys.
Very was one of the first albums I ever bought. My tape with its blue cover and disembodied heads was one of my most prized possessions. I couldn’t choose a favourite song from the album so I’ve gone with the opening track, Can You Forgive Her. It announces the album with a blast of trumpets and the lyrics are full of angst. Like many PSB songs, love is not saccharine or simple.
There is a Pet Shop Boys song for whether you’re in love, out of love, on top of the world or feeling blue. Their music got me through my teenage years and beyond, Se a vida é was the soundtrack of my summer after GCSEs and I revised with the single of Before on a loop (B-side The Truck Driver and His Mate was a guilty pleasure).
I listened to Nightlife through my second year at university, when I shared a house with two guys both called Dave who rarely ever spoke. And Release will forever be associated with my first proper relationship break-up.
“Twenty years on from when I first heard it, Being Boring has stood the test of time. The teenager who lived in quotations is gone, relationships have changed, people gained and lost along the way and I still hope that looking back I’ll be able to rely on a friend.”
I spent one teenage summer with their singles album Discography on a loop in my Walkman and another listening to Alternative, their B-side collection. Alternative is full of song lyrics and titles which appeal to a mixed-up teenager: Do I Have To, One Of The Crowd, We All Feel Better In The Dark. I love I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too) because the lyrics contain a variation on my favourite Oscar Wilde quote: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Dreams, ambition and the hope of better things to come are themes of another of my favourite songs, Being Boring. It’s a beautiful, poignant song about how the things that matter to us change through our lives. It was inspired by the loss of one of Neil Tennant’s friends to Aids.
Twenty years on from when I first heard it, Being Boring has stood the test of time. The teenager who lived in quotations is gone, relationships have changed, people gained and lost along the way and I still hope that looking back I’ll be able to rely on a friend.
Several of Neil and Chris’s cover versions are among my top tracks including U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name and their version of Somewhere from West Side Story produced for their residency at The Savoy. I played this on a loop for days (must have driven my parents mad!) I was going to put it on the playlist but then I remembered their cover of Sail Away, created as part of a charity tribute by Neil to Noel Coward. Twentieth Century Blues is a fabulous album with a great line up of 90s acts from The Divine Comedy to Texas and well worth a listen.
Super will follow the Pet Shop Boys’ superb album Electric. I’ll admit to being disappointed with the duo’s late 90s efforts. But there’s been a new dynamism in their music over the past few years and their work has a more theatrical quality, possibly the result of having produced their own musical, Closer To Heaven. For me, Electric is their best album since Very. The standout track is Love Is a Bourgeois Construct. You can’t beat a song with the line: “Drinking tea like Tony Benn.”
West End Girls is one of the songs which grounds me: I stop what I’m doing and let the intro wash over me every time I hear it. I love the way the beat kicks in and grabs you. It’s evocative of the 80s for me: competition, class, fracturing society. Thirty years on it still sounds just as good as when it was a Brit Award winner. One of the things I like about the Pet Shop Boys is the way they’re always reinventing their sound. Here’s a live version of West End Girls from their Pandemonium tour.
Which segues neatly into my final track, Pandemonium. It’s a fabulous dance track: upbeat, feelgood, poppy. I defy you to listen without the urge to move your feet.3289 Views
Rachel Extance is a journalist and mother-of-two. Her main concern these days is making sure she doesn't walk out the house with yoghurt down her top.