Sunday, August 21, 2011

Top 50 Albums, #46 - "Actually," Pet Shop Boys

Calling Neil Tennant a bored wimp is like accusing Jackson Pollock of making a mess. Since the bored wimp is his subject and his medium, whether he actually is one matters only insofar as the music sounds bored and/or wimpy--and only insofar as that's without its rewards and revelations. From Dusty Springfield to hit Fairlight to heart beats and from insider shopping to kept icon to Bowiesque futurism, this is actual pop music with something actual to say--pure commodity, and proud of it. - Review of “Actually,” Robert Christgau (who gave it an A-)

When Pet Shop Boys first made their mark on the pop world with the magnificent single “West End Girls,” one could have been forgiven for wondering whether they were a flash in the plan, one-hit wonder kind of artist. A lot of 80s dance hits fell into that category – great songs from bands or artists you never heard from again – and yet, PSB are still going strong today, almost 30 years since their initial foray onto the charts. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, they are the most successful pop duo in UK history, and have sold more than 100 million albums.

I haven’t followed them religiously; in fact, I don’t think I’ve bought one of their new albums in over ten years. But I am quite comfortable saying that “Actually” is a masterpiece in the grand tradition of British pop. It’s not what you would call flat out rock and roll by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, I’m not sure if there is a single guitar on the entire album. But the strength of the music is such that its power has not diminished in the 24 years since the record was released, and it sounds as timely today as it did in 1987.

There are interesting lyrics sprinkled throughout the album, but I think the best way to pay tribute to it is simply let the songs speak for themselves.

“What Have I Done To Deserve This,” featuring Dusty Springfield


“I Want to Wake Up”


“King’s Cross”

I also remember a review from the 1980s, long lost now, that compared the PSB’s music to that of John Barry, the great composer of film scores. On “King’s Cross,” I think you can hear that – it’s just a gorgeous pop song.

Pet Shop Boys, Actually. (1987)

Tracks produced by Julian Mendelsohn, Stephen Hague, Pet Shop Boys and David Jacob, Pet Shop Boys and Shep Pettibone, and Andy Richards & Pet Shop Boys.

Track listing: One more chance/What have I done to deserve this?/Shopping/Rent/Hit music/It couldn’t happen here/It’s a sin/I want to wake up/Heart/King’s Cross

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