An appreciation of Pet Shop Boys, from Please to Electric
- Malcolm Jack
- 26 November 2013
The electro-pop icons will headline Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations
A record called Electric could have slotted neatly anywhere into Pet Shop Boys’ 50 million-selling, 31-year career, now spanning 12 albums, each with a trademark one-word title. But, arguably, not since the mid-90s when they helped spearhead dance music’s crossover into the mainstream have Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe sounded so plugged in, so switched on, so recharged and so ready to light it up.
Produced by Stuart Price – the man behind clubby reinventions of Madonna and Kylie – Electric nods firmly to the pair’s imperial past, while sounding at once rooted in the present and plotting a path for the future (after 28 years on Parlophone, it marks the duo’s first independent release on their own label x2).
Formed in 1981 by then Smash Hits assistant editor Tennant after he met Lowe in an electronics shop on the King’s Road, PSB seemed several steps ahead of the game from day one, shooting to top of both the UK and US charts with their debut single ‘West End Girls’. More hits flowed, from ‘It’s a Sin’ to ‘Always on My Mind’ and ‘Go West’ (how many artists could cover Elvis just as convincingly as they could The Village People?).
The duo became defined as much by their archly intelligent synthesisers-and-drum-machines-constructed music as they were by their wilfully contrary commercial image: an outlandish fashion sense and ambiguous sexuality that contrasted with their minimalist artwork and famously passive stage dynamic. In a reference to his default pose, stood stock-still behind a keyboard looking mildly bored, Lowe was once sarcastically described as being ‘possibly more famous for not doing anything than almost anyone else in the history of popular entertainment’.
The Boys’ unique place in the pantheon of British pop was enshrined in 2012 with a lap of honour at the London Olympics closing ceremony, as the duo performed ‘West End Girls’ on fluorescent orange rickshaws with matching conical headgear (glitterball hats and backing dancers dressed in suits of brightly coloured boxes are among other PSB stagewear highlights).
Electric, meanwhile, enshrines all that remains brilliant about those West End boys. ‘Axis’ is five minutes of pumping Hi-NRG pop, full of brass fanfares and buzz-saw synths, while ‘Love is a Bourgeois Construct’ is comfortably the greatest disco song ever to feature the word ‘schadenfreude’. As they treat themselves to a deserved and visually decadent end-of-year blow-out in Edinburgh (where they will be joined by The 1975, the city’s own Nina Nesbitt and The 10:04’s), electric will hardly cover it.
Concert in the Gardens, West Princes Street Gardens, Tue 31 Dec, 9pm, £40 (gardens only). Tickets and event details at edinburghshogmanay.com or 0844 573 8455.