This is where it all changed. This was where love turned to passion, the past became the future, and past sins forgiven. This was the end of the “Imperial Phase” of the Pet Shop Boys, but this was more Imperial than anything before or after. This was where the sublime became divine – or something.
West End Girls marked the start of that Imperial Phase, and the first three albums, Please, Disco and Actually, stomped round the charts mixing the dance sensibilities of New York disco and New Order with lyrics that were evocative, personal and political all at the same time. In fact, when Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers carved “4Real” into his arm in 1991, it was during a discussion where he imagined (to the interviewer, Steve Lamacq) that there could be a group (subtext – this group would be the Manics) who combined the political nous of Big Star with the commercial success of Kylie Minogue. Lamacq responded: “They exist; they’re called the Pet Shop Boys”.
After the Imperial phase, they released Domino Dancing and I sulked. I hated the lyrics, I disliked the music, and Neil’s voice seemed to struggle with the “…watch them all fall down” line. It said nothing to me about my life. I quietly closed the file on the Pet Shop Boys.
Trevor Horn put the Hollywood into Frankie, but he could be more subtle. For Left To My Own Devices he left subtle at the door – Horn and PSB were made for one another. The orchestral opening, the turning motif sustained, leads into a harps and all expansion upwards, heavenwards, collides with some horns (or Horn, who knows), comes crashing back down to earth into that dancing beat. Around Tennant’s English RapTM, the music swoops and dives, dances and makes you dance, changes pace and volume and draws you in. It’s loud, it’s soft, but it’s gloriously introspective, appropriately. The lyrics are almost banal for the most part – a simple account of a day perhaps reminiscent of Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter”. “I get out of bed at half-past ten…” But here, the singer is not the party animal – that’s just a friend, and much of the life described is lived vicariously, comparing himself to that friend. The childhood reminiscences sounded so convincingly autobiographical (“I was a lonely boy, no strength, no joy, in a world of my own at the back of the garden”) Tennant had to apologise to his mother.
At the conclusion of the chorus Horn throws the kitchen sink into it, in a glorious celebration of the perfection of production, and I am absorbed in the magnificence of it all. But then the beats drops away, and the defining PSB lyric – in that it defines them – breaks in: “But in the back of my head I heard distant feet, Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” – and all hell breaks loose again, towards the joyous climax, and I’m right there with them, spinning and dancing, singing to the sky. On my own. In my bedroom. Feeling slightly less introspective. And I probably would.