Tunes to tap to: Pet Shop Boys ‘Electric’
Only twice do I remember bands being described as “one hit wonders” while their first hit was still actually charting (though if I’m not showing my age in describing a time when the concept of music charts actually made sense, I will be in a moment).
One of those was Depeche Mode, who, after a number of bona fide pop hits became something of an ongoing underground phenomenon. This disparaging comment took place on the now long defunct though at the time incredibly popular music show “Count Down” in Australia in the early 1980s. Let me observe that Count Down finished in 1987, after a healthy 13 year run on TV. Depeche Mode still release albums. With an estimated 100 million albums sold, they’re considered the most successful electronic outfit ever.
The other was the Pet Shop Boys. I still recall the surely by now late middle-aged DJ on JJJ (now known as Triple J — an Australian public radio station) some time in 1985 with the release of “Opportunities” (without doubt the most meta pop song ever) not simply suggest, but strongly assert that this group would never be heard of again.
Last year, the Pet Shop Boys appeared during the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. Take that middle aged former DJ!
The Pet Shop Boys have long since become an institution in the UK, their crowning achievement perhaps the Christmas Number One, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Always on My Mind” an achievement akin to an Olympic Gold Medal for British musicians. Well known across Europe, in Australia, and Latin America, the Pet Shop Boys are less well known in the US.
I’m not entirely sure what drew me to this kind of odd duo. Far from the edgy rock of the Smiths and Joy Division, or the then new sounding electronica of the post Ian Curtis Joy Division outfit New Order who at the time were definitely the epitome of ‘cool’, a term we used without irony  at the time, the Pet Shop Boys seemed to follow in the footsteps of Frankie Goes to Hollywood (whose producer/svengali Trevor Horne worked extensively with, and indeed continues to work with the Pet Shop Boys to this day). Popular post-disco disco. Then again, Frankie may well have helped changed my life, from a conservative little teenage sh*t, enamoured of Pink Floyd, to someone far more broadminded. In Thatcher’s UK, and Reagan’s US of the early to mid 1980s these apparently light weight, overly-literate pleasure seekers appeared out of place in a world of emerging urban hip hop, and angry disaffected youth. But as with Frankie, there was more than met the eye to the Pet Shop Boys.
27 years later, they’ve just released their 12th Studio album (the Pet Shop Boys have also written Ballet Scores, EPs, Film Soundtracks and released numerous Remix Albums). They, along with Depeche Mode are among music’s great survivors.
And what an album Electric is. The Pet Shop Boys have always liked to go out clubbing, all the while mixing in some slightly too clever at times references to high culture, both musical and literary, with some social conscience (sometimes laid on a bit too thickly), and a bit of self deprecation for good measure. But at their best, they make you not so much happy, as unabashedly optimistic, exemplified by their 1989 cover of the Sterling Void dance floor filler “It’s Alright”), their cover of the Village People’s “Go West”, and perhaps above all their own early 1990s Being Boring, a song dear to my heart, as it is many Pet Shop Boys fans, including intriguingly, Axl Rose of Guns And Roses.
Vocal, the closing track of Electric is perhaps their best ever song in this vein (indeed, perhaps their best ever?). It liberally quotes from, and refers to–both musically and lyrically– these high points of the Pet Shop Boys catalogue.
Play it and I challenge you not to at least tap your toes. If not your keyboard and screen.
If you’re a bit of an old timer, with fond memories of the Pet Shop Boys, then check out Electric to relive those days, and perhaps convince yourself that just maybe your glory days aren’t all behind you. If the Pet Shop Boys are more something your older siblings, or maybe even your parents were into, and want to know what the fuss was about, leave your cynicism at the door and put Electric on cranked up to 11.
 ironically, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, and Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys in a band “Electronic” in the early 1990s, and Johnny Marr has played live, and on recordings with the Pet Shop Boys for nearly a quarter of a century).