Oh Please: it’s the Pet Shop Boys’ first album review

Pet Shop Boys

Please

Parlophone 

1986

After the slow-burning success of their recent chart-topper, the hypnotic West End Girls, comes the moody pop duo’s debut LP, Please, a collection of immaculately crafted synthesized vignettes that sketches out the basic elements of the duo’s seamlessly produced sound across 10 tracks, plus a mini reprise of last year’s flop 45, Opportunities. Subtitled Let’s Make Lots Of Money, there may be no better commentary on the ThatcherReagan era than this wry, snarky sketch of sex, crime, and technology in conspiracy.

In actuality, the tech side was a long time coming to Please, when you consider that neither half of the mysterious twosome was much about playing pop in the past, let alone electronic music. Neil Tennant says he was writing folky guitar-based songs since his Dusty Joni Mitchell-loving teens in the suburban fringes of Newcastle, while over on the west coast, Blackpool keyboardist Chris Lowe was a trombonist in a seven-piece dance band that covered perfunctory jazz standards. He’s picked up the instrument again on one cut here, the demanding nighttime hedonism of I Want A Lover. While on the current single, the rude sounding Love Comes Quickly, Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay embellishes the insistent with his trademark saxophone. I know he did because I read it on the credits. 

Many of the songs here seem to be either big city adventures or stories of flight of fancy, of finding a better place to go to. Two Divided By Zero is a good example, with a longing to escape pervading the three and a half minutes of Kraftwerkian bleeps and samples, from catching “the late train” to “ a plane to New York”, though with the final denouement of “let’s run away” you’re never sure if they’re going to get there or not. 

For every slowly rolled vowel sound and aloof distance/dissonance from Tennant, the songcraft that Lowe’s electronic beats support is surprisingly strong, featuring catchy melodies that come across like a merry widow’s mix of Burt Bacharach, Giorgio Moroder and Vince Clarke. If they appear deceptively slight it’s because of their reliance on cold keyboard riffs and pulsing drum machines — especially on the somewhat primitive, lulling Suburbia, the jagged, ragged Violence and the frugging Europop of Tonight Is Forever. 

Boasting a beautifully melancholic piano solo, the elegiac desperation of the quieter Later Tonight is a necessary breather in an otherwise relentlessly upbeat album, and proves that there’s more to this duo than meets eyes and ears. The set closes with an ambiguous plea for domesticity in Why Don’t We Live Together?, which somehow reminds me of the Madonna’s more danceable New York electro stuff like Into The Groove.

Whatever the ride, whatever the destination, with a record as smart and tart as this, it surely won’t be long before the Pet Shop Boys transcend the formulaic constraints of synthpop and become the band they’ve always wanted to be. And when they do it’ll be a revelation.

Steve Pafford

The background explanation regarding this timey wimey review is here

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Steve Pafford
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