No doubt we’ll be returning to the Olympics shortly, but for now it’s back to the Pet Shop Boys and the 4th of 10 blogs devoted to our favourite PSB songs of all time, in no particular order. Each blog has an A side (which made our top 10) and is followed by a B side (a song so good it nearly made it – and would have for any band not as good as the PSBs). For introduction and general love letter to the band click here.
A side – Love Etc
We hope by this point we’ve established our credentials as rabid Pet Shop Boys fans, and if you’re reading this there’s a decent chance you are one too (hello members of the PSB Forum! Make yourself at home… Can we get you a cup of tea?). So we can afford to be a little bit honest here. The truth is that in their later years, the Pet Shop Boys rarely scaled the heights they did in their imperial period. And that’s okay: no pop acts ever maintain the audacity and creative verve of their peak years forever. You need only look at the careers of the Pet Shop Boys’ 80s peers (hi Erasure! hi Prince! back off, Madonna!) to realise how astoundingly well Neil and Chris have done to stay relevant at all.
So from “Bilingual” onwards we slowly resigned ourselves to the decline and were content that there were still flashes of the old brilliance, glimmers of the old grace. And then we heard “Love Etc” and it was like falling head over heels in love all over again. From the first second we heard that tingling synthline the hairs on the back of our neck were rising, and by the time the first verse had finished we were infatuated. Add in the ingenious call and response chorus, the whipsmart lyrics and the sheer sighing beauty of Tennant’s melody, and you had what was easily the best Pet Shop Boys pop song in years. The fact that it heralded their best album since “Very” made the whole experience even sweeter. Key lyric: “Don’t have to live a life of power and wealth/ Don’t have to be beautiful… but it helps.”
B Side – So Hard
To be placed alongside “Love Comes Quickly”, “Rent” and “Did You See Me Coming?” in the great PSB innuendo/song title hall of fame, “So Hard” was the first single from their majestic “Behaviour” album and something of a red herring. Where the rest of that album was muted, melancholic and mournful, “So Hard” sounded plain nasty, perhaps the only Pet Shop Boys song to fit that description. We don’t mean this as an insult: the seething electronica and slashing, shuddering synth hook make this one of Chris Lowe’s fiercest and most exhilarating creations, and it all fits Tennant’s tale of bitter jealousies and careless infidelities like a glove. The video also has a special place in our hearts: one of us grew up in Newcastle at the time it was made and we can assure you the scenes of hysterical rows amidst drunken chaos were not staged. We should know, it feels like we were responsible for most of them. A spectacular song, and yet more evidence that a top 10 format just isn’t large enough to contain the Pet Shop Boys’ genius. Key lyric: “I double cross you and you get mysterious mail/ I try hard not to shock you/ It’s hard not to, with the things I could say.”