[Jefito’s Note: Today begins a three-part Idiot’s Guide to Pet Shop Boys, written with typical wit and flair by our pal John from Lost in the ’80s. You read it on a regular basis, right? If your answer is anything other than “Hell yes,” you need to repent of your wicked ways. Enjoy –J]

and someone said “it’s fabulous you’re still around today,
you’ve both made such a little go a very long way.”
— “Yesterday When I Was Mad,” Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys (no, “the,” please, actually) are quite aware what you think of them, thank you very much. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have more than 10 albums, 12 Hot 100 singles and 20 years (!) behind them, yet are considered mostly as one- or two-hit wonders to the majority of American ears. Let’s dispel that myth right off — the Boys have five, count ’em, five Top 10 singles to their name (”West End Girls,” “Opportunities,” “It’s a Sin,” “What Have I Done To Deserve This” and “Always On My Mind”), so that tag is hardly fair. Dig deeper into their catalog and you’ll find many more hit-worthy songs about love, longing, loss, sex, suburbia and shopping.

Please (1986)
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Pet Shop Boys - Please

Such polite lads.

An early collaboration with notorious dance producer Bobby O (who never met a hook he wouldn’t steal) led to club credibility and a deal with EMI. The one-two punch of the singles “West End Girls” and “Opportunities” (both re-recorded for this album) is surrounded by this very assured and focused debut. “Two Divided By Zero” (download) kicks things off, as succinct a mission statement as you can get — the 808s slap and clap while the synth bass bounces as Tennant narrates a tale of escape:

I think they heard a rumor / or someone tipped them off / it’s better to go sooner / than call it all off.

It’s all very mysterious:what rumor? Why the need to run? This theme of escape continues throughout the album; escape from dead-end jobs, failed romances, suburban hells, or in the case of “I Want A Lover” (download), loneliness. The PSB sound is fully realized right from the start, marrying deceptively jolly club beats with melancholy melodies and sometimes downright menacing lyrics, resulting in a strong debut that struck a chord worldwide.

Disco (1986)
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Pet Shop Boys - Disco

At first glance, Disco comes off as purely a stopgap, a remix album to keep the brand alive between full-length releases. But it was more than that — it featured re-recordings of some early songs and b-sides like “In the Night”(download), a couple of completely new songs and it also set the stage for a traditional Disco EP pattern we’ll see emerge as we go along.

Hardly essential, but fun nonetheless.

Actually (1987)
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Pet Shop Boys - Actually

:and the “difficult” sophomore album is anything but.

Actually is even more focused and well-crafted than the Boys’ debut, with only two real clunkers to be had (a new version of a leftover track from their Bobby O days, “One More Chance,” and the cringe-inducing “Hit Music”). Less dance-oriented than their first album, Actually features forays into Sixties-styled pop (complete with Dusty Springfield), ballads, and even a full-on Angelo Badalamenti-conducted orchestra. The hits continued, with “It’s a Sin” and “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” both hitting the Top 10.

Two standouts are “I Want To Wake Up”(download), which name checks “songs like ‘Tainted Love’ and ‘Love Is Strange,’” and the almost hypnotic “King’s Cross” (download), a mournful ballad with a strangely insistent, throbbing bass line.

Introspective (1988)
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Pet Shop Boys - Introspective

Remember that Disco pattern of remix EPs between albums I said we’d see emerge soon?

Introspective was the second remix/new EP in as many full-lengths, but it’s much more realized than Disco. In fact, there’s mostly new stuff here, with a remix of “Always On My Mind” thrown in for good measure. One of those new tunes, “Domino Dancing,” brought Latin Freestyle into the U.S. Top 40, thanks to Exposé, producer Lewis Martineé, while another, “I’m Not Scared” (download), was written (and became a minor European hit) for Eighth Wonder, Patsy Kensit’s old band. The EP also includes the Boys’ first collaborations with über-producer Trevor Horn.

Behavior (1990)
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Pet Shop Boys - Behavior

Phew. All that dancin’s made me tired.

The Boys must have felt the same, since Behavior is quite the mellow record. Produced by Harold “Axel F” Faltermeyer, the songs sound warm and organic, despite the decks and decks of synths involved. It’s also a bit of curveball for PSB fans, with the single “So Hard”(download) being the only “typical” Pet Shop Boys song on the whole thing.

Unfortunately, grunge was taking over, so there wasn’t much room for a “typical” Pet Shop Boys song in the Top 40 anymore, and “So Hard” sank without a trace. As for the rest of the album, guitars make more than a passing appearance (The Smiths’ Johnny Marr even plays on a few tracks) and there’s a wistful, melancholy tone to the entire proceedings.

“Jealousy” (download) continued the cheatin’ heart theme, complete with a bombastic ending. On the whole, Behavior was the beginning of the end for the Pet Shop Boys’ mainstream U.S. success, but as we’ll see in Part Two, it wasn’t for lack of trying — tune in next week as the Boys dredge up the corpse of the Village People, Liza “oh, she’s still technically living?” Minelli, and jump on the Latin Explosion bandwagon three years too early.

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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