In honour of the new Pet Shop Boys single “Winner” we’ve been blogging like bastards about our 10 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 – I Want To Wake Up
It says something for the radiant brilliance of the Pet Shop Boys’ second album, “Actually”, (their masterpiece, no arguing at the back) that “I Want To Wake Up” was never a single. You can see why the high-camp theatrics of “It’s A Sin” or the bubblegum catchiness of “Heart” were considered more chart friendly; “I Want To Wake Up” is a more downbeat affair. Over a keening synth riff and a dirty disco beat, Tennant darkly reports on the miseries of being in love with someone who can’t love you back in a way which Morrissey would surely have appreciated (you’ll find a more recent and just as heartrending example from Frank Ocean here).
And it’s one of their most riveting, perfectly crafted love songs, Tennant’s tone of confused, anguished heartbreak proving once again that lazy descriptions of the duo as irony-mongers are completely off the mark: their very best work is as sincere as anything you’ll find in Joni Mitchell. Sonically, it still sounds remarkably fresh, and melodically it’s as arresting as the Pet Shop Boys have ever been, particularly in its desperate, yearning coda. It’s a perfect example of how pop music is the single greatest vehicle for expressing the intensity of love and utterly deserves its place in the PSB top 10. No single means no official video, so enjoy the sheer enthusiastic madness of PSB fandom courtesy of PinkHeartz74 writhing on her kitchen table. Key lyric: “It’s mad, it’s mad, it’s mad, it’s mad/ To be in love with someone else/ When you’re in love with him, she’s in love with me/ And you know as well as I do I can never think of anyone but you.”
B Side – Liberation
Talking of sincerity, here’s another truly heartfelt love song from the Pet Shop Boys songbook, and it is a thing of soft, kittenish loveliness. Lowe provides a hypnotically lilting keyboard line, and Tennant breathes his words with the tender ache of the truly in love. The “da da da da” refrain is a brief moment of particular gorgeousness in a career full of them. Short, sweet and simple – not always words you’d associate with the Pet Shop Boys – and one of their finest moments, if not quite top 10. Key lyric (and one which makes us sigh every time): “All the way back home at midnight/ You were sleeping on my shoulder.”
I’m at the back, and no way is Actually their masterpiece. Introspective, Behaviour, and Very trample it. Not that it’s bad, obviously. Oh, did I mention Introspective…
You did choose the three albums which I would consider run it close. If you’d gone for Please then I’d dismiss your point out of hand. But I will hold to my view that Actually is their masterpiece – i just think that, song for song, it’s outstanding and more consistent than anything else they’ve done, with the best balance between POP Pet Shop Boys (What Have I Done To Deserve This?, It’s A Sin, Heart) and moody Pet Shop Boys (It Couldn’t Happen Here, Rent, King’s Cross).
All the other albums you mention have some pretty weak moments (How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously, I Want A Dog, One and One Make Five), but I don’t think Actually does – although Shopping hasn’t dated brilliantly, I suppose. Anyway, if we were talking face to face I am pretty sure we could have a brilliant discussion on this and you might win me over. But given the limitations of conversation-by-comments, and given i’m playing home advantage here, we’ll just have to wrap things up with I’M RIGHT. OKAY? Which i’m sure is exactly how the real Neil would phrase it too…
(PS – you’re obviously a fan. send us an email telling us what should be in the final 4 songs we’re naming. firstname.lastname@example.org. If you choose well, we’ll credit you)
PPS – despite my rubbish attempt at belligerence above, i’m interested in a good counter-argument
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