Picture of Pet Shop Boys records

It’s a Sin! – Guilty pleasures from a reluctant Pet Shop Boys fan

I don’t like the Pet Shop Boys… or at least that’s what I tell myself. I thought Neil Tennant’s voice was just a little too saccharine for my tastes and Chris Lowe’s sound palette and programming just a little too cheesy. And yet here I am adding another PSB record to what is becoming a collection. 

I’m joking of course… Niel Tennant’s voice and Chris Lowe’s music production are nothing if not exquisite. Songs like West End Girls and It’s a sin are classics and you don’t sell over a 100 million records, without being good. You don’t establish iconic song titles without having some impact on society. But for a somebody that still collects vinyl that’s Spotify fodder surely, the stuff of nostalgic fun at a Saturday night cheese and wine soirée. But here I am at Filter Musikk, forking out more money for yet another Pet Shop Boys record. Why!?

Away from the charts, the top of the pops appearances (they always look bored), the television cameos, and their relevance today as gay culture icons, they were one of first to establish that connections between sequenced electronic music, the dance floor and most importantly a mainstream audience. The remixes, side projects and B-sides all point to an innate understanding of the relationship between the DJ and the dance floor. Moreover the Pet Shop Boys have been able to capture the masses with little more than a synthesiser and a drum machine. From live shows (yes, I have seen them live) to theatrical ballets (yes, I’ve seen those too), the Pet Shop Boys have taken this rudimentary dance music to every imaginable corner of the arts. 

The Pet Shop Boys discography spans 5 decades and their records count into the 100s, and the simplest way to gain access to it is obviously through the hits. Everybody, at least most people with an interest in music knows these, but every now and then Pet Shop Boys do something that’s like an open love letter to club music , and some of these have become highlights for a reluctant pet Shop Boys fan. Here’s a look at a handful of them in no particular order.

Disco – LP

This record has the BPMs in the tracklist! Disco was the remix album to Pet Shop Boys’ debut “Please” and its intentions are right there in the title. I love the cover art for this one, and it’s your favourite Pet Shop Boys tracks, reconstituted for the dance floor. According to wikipedia “the album was released to showcase music the duo deemed non-radio friendly.” DJs must have loved this! It features esteemed remixers like Arthur Baker and Shep Pettibone. Imagine Shep’s remix of West End Girls being played somewhere in Ibiza at the time. People would’ve lost their shit!

Domino Dancing (remix) – 12”

It got a raised eyebrow from Sagitarri Acid when he rang this one up at Filter’s counter. Domino Dancing is a classic and from the serrated edges of the “base” remix to the lo-Fi demo version PSB cover a fair few dance floors on this one. That beat on the demo version sounds so much better than the one that eventually made it onto the record. I could just listen to that intro on repeat. 

Heart – 7”

While Heart is arguably one of the greatest love songs ever written, it’s all about the B-side on this one. “I get excited (you get excited too)” is a balearic gem. From the 707 percussive onslaught to the Juno’s relentless bass movements if this doesn’t get you excited… well… But just in case it’s not enough, here’s a version being recreated on an original Fairlight. 

Psychological – 12”

I didn’t know this was Pet Shop Boys until Roland Lifjell pointed it out to me. The one-sided record held no clues to its origins other than a PSB catalogue number. Pitch it down and it turns into this wavy nu-disco track, as it swells through different phases. Niel Tennant’s voice is notably absent on the instrumental version and it’s some Chris Lowe’s best work behind the synthesiser. 

Electronic – LP 

It’s true that your first experiences in music are that of your parents. My parents listened to a lot of Pet Shop Boys and especially this record, which I didn’t quite understand at the time, but I keep returning to as I got older. I didn’t know it then, but this  was my first taste of the diversity of the Pet Shop Boys, and most likely my first connection to dance music, as a Factory records record and its connection to the hacienda. 

Is this perhaps the first electronic super group! An ensemble based around Bernard Sumner (New Order, Joy Division) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths), the record also featured Niel Tennant and Chris Lowe, although the latter was never officially credited. You can hear his synth work dotted throughout, as subtle as Tennant’s backing vocal. It’s just a record full of great Pop Songs. “The patience of a saint” is something that has stayed with me since the first time I heard it on a CD back in 1991.