Sunday, 24 June 2012
83 Please - Pet Shop Boys
Purchased : April 1988
Tracks : Two Divided By Zero / West End Girls / Opportunities / Love Comes Quickly / Suburbia / Tonight Is Forever / Violence / I Want A Lover / Later Tonight / Why Don't We Live Together ?
This also was a 1986 album bought as part of Britannia Music's introductory offer. As I liked ( to varying degrees ) all four of its hit singles I had high expectations despite my ambivalence about some of the tracks on "Actually".
"Please" was the Pet Shop Boys' debut LP released in April 1986. It's a mainly self-sufficient effort with a sole writing credit each for original muse Bobby Orlando and producer Stephen Hague and only two guest artists named on the sleeve.
Orlando's credit - in place of Lowe actually - is for the opening track "Two Divided By Zero" . Musically it's based around a sample from a speaking calculator ( sounding rather like voiceover legend Patrick Allen ) repeating the title phrase. Its relentless rigidity almost forms the bassline to the song. The musical debt to Kraftwerk is obvious but Neil Tennant spins a very human tale urging another youngster to run away with him leaving a note for their parents - "When the postman comes we'll be miles away". Without Lowe contributing it has a very simple melody line. It's a carefully chosen introductory song for the themes of escape and opportunity and a certain ruefulness recur throughout the album. There is of course another hidden theme as the 'Boys were in the closet at the time ( though some of my university friends cottoned on straightaway).
Then it's their big breakthrough single ( at the second, remixed, attempt ), "West End Girls" which became the post-Christmas number one in 1986 after steadily climbing the charts. ( When it was succeeded by A-ha's The Sun Always Shines On TV I thought 1986 was going to be a golden year but in fact it presaged my final disconnection from the zeitgeist and I don't think I've liked two consecutive number ones since ). Tennant has always said it was inspired by The Wasteland's use of different narrative voices - the man losing it in a restaurant, the craver for drugs or sex or both and the purchaser of casual sex - and it remains pop's greatest evocation of urban ennui, perhaps all culture's until Naked came along eight years later. All the ingredients , Tennant's deadpan rap and seedy lyrics ( plus the mystifying reference to mass murderer Lenin's historic journey ) Lowe's simple sad keyboard motif and Fairlight trumpet solo and ex- Dylan backing singer ( and muse during his Christian phase ) Helena Springs's gospel interjections add up to a perfect package whose appeal remains undimmed through the years. Is it their greatest record ? - you bet !
It's not much of a comedown to a new version of their other pre-fame single "Opportunities ( Let's Make Lots Of Money )" still irresistible to any TV producer documenting The Age Of The Filofax. Tennant actually intended it as the story of two losers hatching ill-conceived schemes, inspired by the film Midnight Cowboy but the middle eight in particular, which Tennant sings instead of declaiming has been taken as a satire of Norman Tebbit and his ilk. It's ironic that a song about planned criminality has so much larceny in the music, the percussive beginning is very similar to the intro to Talk Talk , the synth stabs at the end to Young Guns Go For It and the pounding drama of the main song has a similar feel to Propaganda's Dr Mabuse ( it's worth noting that Art of Noise's J J Jeczalik worked on both tracks ). Still a great record though especially the build up to that great shriek of "Money !" at the end..
"Love Comes Quickly" was the follow-up to "West End Girls" peaking at a rather disappointing 19. There's not too much wrong with it - a straightforward, slightly gauche musing on the unexpected arrival of love plaintively sung set to a pretty melody ( for which Hague receives a co-writing credit ). I'm guessing it just seemed a little conventional, a synth-pop ditty which could have come from Soft Cell or Eurhythmics who would have given it more beef in the vocal department. Roxy's Andy McKay - actually he was in The Explorers at the time - is credited with some saxophone on the track but you'd be hard pressed to pick it out.
"Suburbia" was the fourth single from the LP and restored them to the Top 10. Its lyric about disaffected youth getting into trouble could have come straight from Setting Sons. The song has urgent dramatic verses punctuated by squeaky synth followed by a warm affectionate chorus with the melody line picked out on a piano. There are also plenty of sound effects ( there were even more on the single version ). It's hard to imagine Tennant ever "ran with the dogs" - what you have is the bookish nerd romanticising what the bad boys get up to , a recurring theme in pop from Pete Townsend to Morrissey.
The second side contains no singles and is rather more personal in its concerns. "Tonight Is Forever" is a slab of melancholy Eurodisco from the point of view of someone who knows their lifestyle of night time hedonism can't be sustained. Lyrically it's a close cousin to Soft Cell's Bedsitter. The beginning is similar to Depeche Mode's Blasphemous Rumours but it soon turns into a blaring Fairlight romp with a marked similarity to Hague's single with New Order, True Faith which came out the following year. If they had wanted a fifth single this would have been the best candidate.
"Violence" swaps the Hi-NRG beat for a langorous electro-funk sound, similar in pace to Style Council's Long Hot Summer. Tennant laments the prevalence of gun culture amongst urban gangs in a keening wail he doesn't often use before reverting to a Patrick Allen tone for the stern warning - "Violence breeds violence" - that constitutes the chorus. Springs pops up again to add colour with some wordless Great Gig In The Sky wailing.
The tempo revs up again with "I Want A Lover" about the sexual anticipation prior to a one night stand. It's a good tune and Lowe pulls out all the stops with the string synths sawing away and Trevor Horn- inspired dramatic flourishes but there's something missing and it's probably Tennant's vocal that's to blame. His diffident voice is great for expressing regret or sorrow not so suited to conveying arousal. The song needs a Laura Branigan to do it justice.
"Later Tonight" is a moody , vaguely Scott Walker-ish piano ballad credited solely to Tennant. The song is about an unrequited crush on a jock leading one presumes to the sin of Onan in the nocturnal hours -"He is the head boy at the school of thought of your invention". There's only one verse and a sad statement for a chorus.
"Why Don't We Live Together" closes the album. As the title suggests it's a plea for a more permanent relationship though there's a hope rather than a certainty that it will work out. Tennant's "You may not always love me" inverts the opening line of God Only Knows to good effect but it's hard not to be distracted by the thievery elswehere. The rhythm track seems to have been lifted wholesale from Into The Groove so you're expecting Ms. Ciccone to come in with "And you can dance..." at numerous junctures and the main melody line sounds like it's been filched from Third World's Dancing On The Floor. It's this and Tennant's whiney vocal that make it an unsafisfactory closer.
"Please" is a better , more consistent album than "Actually" which highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the group. It will be some time before we meet them again , the various remix albums and vitality-sapping collaborations through 1988 -90 making me a bit wary of them thereafter.