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Reviewing 35 years of Pet Shop Boys albums from start to finish

I’ve a little timey wimey thing going on with the Pet Shop Boys at the moment. 

To get frightfully anal for a second, 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of the duo’s debut, 1986’s Please, a milestone in itself. But then it occurred to me that they’ve actually released an album in every half-decades increments ever since, i.e.

Discography (1991)

Bilingual (1996)

Closer To Heaven soundtrack (2001)

Fundamental (2006)

The Most Incredible Thing soundtrack (2011)

Super (2016)

Could 2021 go down as the year to break that cycle? We shall see.

Though I started writing in the small-time world of self publishing in the 1990s, which lead to my first official celebrity interview in April 1996 (step forward Mr Neil Tennant), alas, I’ve only been a proper paid and published journalist since 1999. 

In that time I think I can safely say that — one 17-album overview of David Bowie excepted — I’ve been commissioned to review more records by Tennant and Lowe than any other humans. Though out of the list above, only the most recent, 2016’s so-so Super, was a submitted freelance piece, a few months before I set up in 2017.

The majority of the PSB album reviews were commissioned by either the British music monthly Record Collector (Concrete, Disco 4, Yes), or running with the inevitable shift to online endeavours, the American gay website GuySpy (Electric, Super).

So, as we’ve come full circle in the world of self publishing and I have the freedom to spout forth about whatever I like and when, I’ve set myself the task of completing the ‘missing’ reviews.

I covered Actually for its 30th anniversary on this very site in 2017, a Nightlife 20th thing in 2019, and Hotspot and Behaviour in 2020. Get me, because I also tackled Liza Minnelli’s Results earlier this year (the only complete album PSB produced for another artist), and through 2021 and beyond I’ll tackle the others, including the runt of the litter, the still baffling Release and Elysium. 

Rather than a word overload I’ve decided to approach each album as if I hitched a ride in a Tardis and have hopped back to whenever each of the subject matter was approaching its original release, to instruct my earlier self to write the review. With no benefit of hindsight and zero knowledge of anything that came after, it keeps things absolutely contemporaneous and free from latter day comparisons that bog down a lot of reviews.

For appearances sake I’ll limit myself to the standard word count preferred by Record Collector and GuySpy, which is usually in the region of 300-750 words. Thank heavens for small mercies, right?

And in the following feature we kick off proceedings with the very first Pet Shop Boys album, released 35 years ago when I was a mere 16 year old in his first year at Bletchley Park college, one that had been following them ever since Neil Tennant quit Smash Hits magazine in a blaze of publicity almost 12 month earlier. 

Famously a lover of fully formed sentences in pop, it’s the one they titled because they liked the idea that you could walk into a record store (remember them?) and ask “Could I have the Pet Shop Boys album, Please?”

Steve Pafford

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