Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

"The music's blandness is part of the quite well-executed concept: articulating the ambivalent romanticism, immodest hopes, and not-so-quiet desperation behind the suburban façade of the people who create Smash Hits pop, and maybe consume it, too." -- Robert Christgau, reviewing the Pet Shop Boys' 1986 debut Please in The Village Voice

"On one level, certainly, the Petties are pop intellectuals self-consciously staging their own spectacle, prancing around like puppets. But on a more profound level, they force you to care about those puppets. They fantasize about being puppets because puppets don't have to fall in love with a suffering world." -- Rob Sheffield, from The Spin Alternative Record Guide

"The combination of vocalist Neil Tennant's arch, high-nasal delivery and his background as a rock journalist smacked of overly self-conscious manipulation. Surprisingly, Please expands on the wry hookiness of 'West End Girls,' and the Pet Shop Boys haven't looked back since." -- Mark Coleman, The Rolling Stone Album Guide

"'New York City Boy' is the gayest song ever recorded." -- amazon.com, reviewing the brand-new Nightlife

Never in the history of pop music has an act been so lauded for being so dull, so repetitive, so manipulative, so derivative; never has so little been celebrated so much, especially after "West End Boys" proved the most phlegmatic and annoying single of 1986, one that doesn't wear well at all 13 years later. Or maybe those among us who don't spend so much time on the dance floor just don't get it; when you can barely walk, maybe it's time to reconsider writing about dance music meant to shake your ass, free your mind, and break your heart all at the same time. I've long been convinced that if the Pet Shoppers were two straight boys from, say, Queens, they'd have long ago disappeared, dismissed as retrofetishists done in by disco. But Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe's rock-intellectual upbringing and sexual orientation allows them to transcend such criticism; they're impervious to admonishment, since they're so...smart. Or so Robert Christgau and his posse of true believers have been insisting since Please. And to think, poor Frankie Goes to Hollywood was damned for being pretty much the exact same band...only, ya know, more interesting. Frankie say ripped off!

The concept may be noble in principle -- bored people making boring dance music that deals with ennui and detachment and the need for the human touch in the inhuman world, which is the Cliff's Notes summary of everything ever written about this band. But good intentions don't always make for good music, especially when the boring parts tend to stick out like a lumberjack at the Lizard Lounge. Some of us just can't get past the Kraftwerk-by-way-of-Village-People thing these guys got going on -- which they'd hardly take as put-down since, after all, the Boys did cover "Go West" on 1993's Very. Then again, there's always a fine line between high camp and High Art, and the world's defined by people who get the joke and those who live it. These guys have worked with Dusty Springfield and Liza Minnelli, fused U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" with Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," and released an entire disc about the joys of shopping. Laugh with them or at them, but either way, the joke's on you. Next stop: Cher.

All that said, Nightlife is a vaguely interesting little disc -- disposable, yes, and familiar to anyone who's heard anything the Boys have done since Introspective, but not without its sequined charms. "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk" might be the funniest sad song ever about how some people will take love any way they can get it ("How your mood changes / You're an angel / Now a devil"); "Happiness Is an Option" plays initially like some parodied redo of "Gangster's Paradise"; and "New York City Boy" sounds like the theme song to a Puerto Rican Gay Pride parade ("Home is a boot camp / You gotta escape"). But "In Denial," with its strings and things, comes off as soundtrack leftovers. And it doesn't help that the Boys hired the non-singing singer Kylie Minogue for the female part of the duet. What, Patsy Kensit wasn't available? Boy George? Holly Johnson? image

Robert Wilonsky

 
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