So we’ve wrapped up our top-20-greatest-PSB-songs orgy: 20 mini blogs in honour of the new single and album, and featuring the dazzling heights of the duo’s career, all wrapped up in one blog here.
But it’s just not enough, is it? We know that some readers were upset about the omission of “Go West”, “Later Tonight” (actually, we’re upset over that one), “In The Night”, “New York City Boy”, “Se A Vida E” and even “I’m With Stupid” (we’re pretty sure we made the right choice there). The fact is that the PSB back catalogue is so rich and eclectic that no list – not even a top 40 – can really do it justice. But we are going to blog on two last songs, chosen by readers, because they show the little gems hidden under the PSBs pile of pop gold. They also show the duo’s extraordinary musical and emotional range.
The Truck Driver And His Mate
One of the Pet Shop Boys’ many brilliant b-sides, “The Truck Driver And His Mate” reveals the Pet Shop Boys at their trashiest, silliest and most raucous. Inspired by the old Yorkie* slogan, “Big enough for the truck driver and his mate”, Neil’s lyric starts out as throwaway homo-erotica (“Parked inside the lay-by, their destination can wait”), and then, with that special PSB touch, becomes something rather more moving (“loyal to the point of madness/ Solemn as an act of fate/ Dancing in the moonlight/ The truck driver and his mate.”)
Which would all be fun enough in itself, but it’s the monster musical backing that gives this song its gleeful energy. The rhythm is stomping glam , the fat bastard of a synthesized-guitar is as close as the duo ever got to hard rock and the boys then sprinkle fluttery happy house BVs over it all – that special PSB touch again. It’s mad, it’s over the top, it’s glorious and it’s a reminder of the sheer creative verve that could still possess Tennant and Lowe even 10 years into their career. You can see why its sheer peculiarity fated it to be a b-side, but it’s hard not to think this would have injected the so-so “Bilingual” album with a bit of needed zest. “It was just a fun thing to do,” says Tennant, and that sums it up perfectly.
Only The Wind
Right at the other end of the PSB spectrum, “Behaviour”‘s “Only The Wind” album track is the duo at their softest and most mournful. Lowe’s trademark slashing synths appear briefly and quietly, like an echo of a long-ago-party, while the rest of the song’s sound is made up of a gentle piano part, gently stuttering beats, the return of Angelo Badalamenti (after his spectacular work on “It Couldn’t Happen Here”) and a whispery, fragile vocal. The lyrics are eloquent, understated and melancholy (“it’s only the wind, blowing litter all around”) and it’s only gradually that the sense of fear and foreboding take hold (“there’s nobody crying, that was yesterday”) and you come to understand that the song is about domestic abuse, and the wind a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of violence. It’s a heartbreaker, and a reminder once again that anyone who thinks the Pet Shop Boys are all about irony are dead, dead wrong.
And with that we’ll leave you. God, it’s been a joy writing about this most exceptional of bands. But we – and you – deserve a break. Shall we say a week?
Thanks for the suggestions David Q and Jazz Wok, respectively.
*Yorkie’s are a chocolate bar in the UK, marketed as the macho chocolate bar. They’re the butch man to the eyelash-fluttering Flake, if you like