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Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

Pop group

The Pet Shop Boys became world-recognized pop stars in 1986 with the huge success of their debut album Please, which featured the chart-topping dance hits "West End Girls" and "(Opportunities) Let's Make Lots of Money." Since then vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe have maintained a steady stream of danceable hits, "crafting some splendidly catchy, intelligent pure pop records," according to Kris Kirk in Melody Maker. The British duo has forged a unique brand of Euro-beat dance music, combining infectious synthesized melodies with intelligent lyrics that have been described as cynical and melancholic. Stephen Holden in the New York Times remarked on the "sophistication" of the Pet Shop Boys, "whose angular melodies and thoughtful lyrics transcend ordinary dance pop." Harold DeMuir in Creem called their sound "a curious blend of sincerity and archness … [which] manages to sound simultaneously effervescent and morose."

The Pet Shop Boys' popular music videos are styled appropriately to their world-weary musical tone; DeMuir explained that they "generally contain as little actual physical movement as possible," which promotes a "dour, minimalist image." The reasoning behind the video concept, according to lead singer Tennant, is to avoid the "false enthusiasm" of other pop performances. "We're suspicious of all that rock tradition, and we don't want to fall into all the usual cliches," he told DeMuir. "We don't do that kind of recording you could mime a guitar solo to, or do a [now-defunct British pop duo] Wham! dance routine to. We're also a bit self-conscious, which is probably more important." Some critics have called the Pet Shop Boys the "perfect" pop group. "If we're talking elements, the Pet Shop Boys've got 'em," wrote Sylvie Simmons in Creem. "A group that manages to be naive and sophisticated, sincere and insincere, cheery and miserable all at the same time."

Unlikely Pop Stars

The Pet Shop Boys followed a somewhat unlikely path to pop music stardom. When Tennant and Lowe met in a Chelsea stereo shop in 1981, both were synthesizer hobbyists pursuing non-music careers. Tennant had been a book editor in London and was about to join the music magazine Smash Hits, while Lowe was training at Liverpool University to become a professional architect. After discovering that they shared similar tastes in dance music, the two began writing songs together. Lowe says there was never a conscious effort to form a group. "I always used to spend a lot of time messing around on the piano at home, and Neil did the same on his guitar," he told DeMuir. "We were just interested in music, and it seemed to develop and take off by itself." Tennant, on the other hand, had always wanted to be a pop star or actor. As a youth he was involved in local theater and played in a band. Tennant grew up in a suburb of Newcastle, England, where, according to Michael Goldberg in Rolling Stone, he "saw both pop music and the theater as a way to escape the boredom of his life in suburbia—a theme that dominates Please."

Tennant was in New York City in 1983 to interview pop singer Sting for Smash Hits when he met Bobby Orlando, a well-known disco music producer whom Tennant and Lowe admired. Orlando liked what he heard of the Pet Shop Boys—their name was coined by a pet shop employee friend—and soon both Tennant and Lowe were in New York recording a version of "West End Girls" for Orlando; the single would initially achieve only minor success in Europe. After a contract dispute with Orlando, the Boys signed with EMI in 1985 and began recording songs for Please. Their first release, "(Opportunities) Let's Make Lots of Money," flopped in England, though it would later become a hit there. Undaunted, the duo decided to release "West End Girls" in the United States. The recording took off this time; the Pet Shop Boys soon found they had a number one single on their hands and were famous on both sides of the Atlantic. "(Opportunities)" also reached number one upon its re-release and the Pet Shop Boys have since produced a number of chart-topping dance records. Included among them are "What Have I Done to Deserve This," featuring British vocalist Dusty Springfield, and a neo-disco version of the Elvis Presley recording later made popular by country singer Willie Nelson, "You Were Always on My Mind."

Despite their success and, in fact, because of it, the Pet Shop Boys have had to contend with being called "calculated," a description related to their respective career backgrounds. Tennant, sometimes referred to as another "pop-journalist-want-to-be-musician," has commented on this enduring misconception. He told Simmons: "There was some reviewer that described us as 'clever pop strategists,' whatever that means. People think that, because I was a journalist and all the rest of it—and because Chris was an architect—that we're very clever. Everything's very, very well thought out and planned down to the last detail, and we're quite cynical about it and have a clever mix of different kinds of music…. The truth of the matter is that we write songs that we like the sound of." Tennant also discounted the influence of his work as a music editor. "A lot of rock journalists—and I was exactly the same—often have a complete misunderstanding of what it's like for a group in the music business," he told Goldberg. "I didn't really learn anything on that score from being a rock journalist."

"It's What We Want"

The Pet Shop Boys are very controlled about their image, however, and take pains to distinguish themselves from other music groups. Their first live tour, in 1989, came after years of planning and was a stage extravaganza that featured an emotionless Tennant and Lowe, in addition to a cast of dancers with elaborate costumes and props, including massive dolls. "We're doing it like this because it's what we want," Tennant was quoted in Melody Maker at the time of the show's premiere. "It's how we want Pet Shop Boys to be presented. We always try to present ourselves as being separate from everyone else." This measure of calculation seems to be essential Pet Shop Boys. A Melody Maker reviewer, commenting on their stage show, wrote: "Tennant's lexicon of taste is conspicuously critical; that's to say he's objective, distant, dry, he believes he knows what ought to be. Consequently nothing about the Pet Shop Boys live happens by accident, there's no spontaneity." The reviewer added, however, that Tennant "looked amazing, looked distant, looked like he'd never met anyone. He wore a long, white fur coat, diamante broaches and a smile like Robert Morley in 'Theatre of Blood,' the very picture of privilege and depravity. He was the Pet Shop Boys."

After a hiatus, the Pet Shop Boys returned to public attention in 2001 with a musical, Closer to Heaven, performed at the 350-seat Arts Theatre in London, England. They collaborated with award-winning playwright Jonathan Harvey to create a story of gay love, drugs, and the nightclub scene. A reviewer in Time International wrote that although the songs "would work fine in the generalized context of a pop song," they did not illuminate the characters, a necessary function of songs in a musical. The reviewer added, "There's really nothing more depressing than listening to a good dance tune while sitting down." In Spectator, Sheridan Morley wrote that the show "has considerably more going for it than you'd expect from some vitriolic overnight reviews elsewhere." He commented that the show "takes what could have been just another chart-topping CD and turns it back into a strongly staged event."

Returned to the Charts

In 2002 the group released a new album, High and Dry. The album launched the group back onto the European radio charts, reaching number 13 on the European Radio Top 50 within a week of its release. In Music and Media, Siri Stavenes wrote that the title track was "a sunny, feel-good pop song," and that it was "the perfect cross-over track."

For the Record …

Members include Neil Francis Tennant (born in 1954), keyboardist; Chris Sean Lowe (born in 1959, studied architecture at Liverpool University), keyboardist.

Group formed in 1985; collection of Pet Shop Boys videos titled Television released, 1986; acted as coproducers of singer-actress Liza Minnelli's album Results, 1989; wrote and performed music for Closer to Heaven, a musical, 2001; released High and Dry, 2002; released Battleship Potemkin, 2005.

Addresses: Record company—EMI, 810 7th Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website—Pet Shop Boys Official Website: http://www.petshopboys.co.uk.

In 2005 the Pet Shop Boys released Battleship Potemkin, a soundtrack for the 1925 silent film of the same name. The film, directed by Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, was originally released in 1925 and depicted a sailors' mutiny in 1905; it remained controversial for decades. The film was destroyed in France and censored in Germany, and was banned in Britain until 1954. It has inspired many filmmakers and artists. The Pet Shop Boys' soundtrack was largely instrumental, and was orchestrated by German composer Torsten Rasch and performed by the 26-member Dresden Sinfoniker. Tennant commented on the Pet Shop Boys' website, "It's an ideal of revolution. It's a romantic film of people struggling against oppression to find freedom." He added, "It's a very stirring film, and I think we've tried to bring out that stirring and idealistic quality in the music."

Selected discography

"West End Girl" (single), Bobcat Records, 1984.
Please, EMI, 1986.
Actually, EMI, 1987.
Introspective, EMI, 1988.
Behavior, EMI, 1990.
High and Dry, Parlophone, 2002.
Battleship Potemkin, EMI/Parlophone, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Creem, September 1986; January 1988.

Melody Maker, February 2, 1986; January 3, 1987; July 11, 1987; October 3, 1987; May 13, 1989; July 15, 1989; July 22, 1989.

Music and Media, March 9, 2002, p. 22; March 23, 2002, p. 3.

New York Times, November 7, 1990.

Rolling Stone, October 23, 1986; December 18, 1986/January 1, 1987.

Spectator, June 9, 2001, p. 48.

Time International, June 11, 2001, p. 74.

Online

"Pet Shop Boys Plan Free Gig," BBC News, June 28, 2004, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/3847629.stm (September 7, 2005).

Pet Shop Boys Official Website, http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/ (September 7, 2005).

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Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

British pop duo

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

The Pet Shop Boys became world-recognized pop stars in 1986 with the huge success of their debut album Please, which featured the chart-topping dance hits West End Girls and (Opportunities) Lets Make Lots of Money. Since then vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe have maintained a steady stream of danceable hits, crafting some splendidly catchy, intelligent pure pop records, wrote Kris Kirk in Melody Maker. The British duo has forged a unique brand of Euro-beat dance music, combining infectious synthesized melodies with intelligent lyrics that have been described as cynical and melancholic. Stephen Holden in the New York Times remarked on the sophistication of the Pet Shop Boys, whose angular melodies and thoughtful lyrics transcend ordinary dance pop. Harold DeMuir in Creem called their sound a curious blend of sincerity and archness [which] manages to sound simultaneously effervescent and morose.

The Pet Shop Boys popular music videos are styled appropriately to their world-weary musical tone; DeMuir explained that they generally contain as little actual

For the Record

Band formed in 1985; founding members include Neil (Francis) Tennant, born in 1954, and Chris (Sean) Lowe, born in 1959.

Prior to the formation of the Pet Shop Boys, Tennant worked in the London office of Marvel Comics, as a book editor at MacDonald Educational Publishing, and as a music editor at Smash Hits. Lowe studied architecture at Liverpool University. A collection of Pet Shop Boys videos titled Television was released in 1986. Coproducers of singer-actress Liza Minnellis album Results, Epic, 1989.

Addresses: Record company EMI, 810 7th Ave., New York, NY 10019.

physical movement as possible, which promotes a dour, minimalist image. The reasoning behind the video concept, according to lead singer Tennant, is to avoid the false enthusiasm of other pop performances. Were suspicious of all that rock tradition, and we dont want to fall into all the usual cliches, he told DeMuir. We dont do that kind of recording you could mime a guitar solo to, or do a [now-defunct British pop duo] Wham! dance routine to. Were also a bit self-conscious, which is probably more important. Some critics have called the Pet Shop Boys the perfect pop group. If were talking elements, the Pet Shop Boysve got em, wrote Sylvie Simmons in Creem. A group that manages to be naive and sophisticated, sincere and insincere, cheery and miserable all at the same time.

The Pet Shop Boys followed a somewhat unlikely path to pop music stardom. When Tennant and Lowe met in a Chelsea stereo shop in 1981, both were synthesizer hobbyists pursuing non-music careers. Tennant had been a book editor in London and was about to join the music magazine Smash Hits; Lowe was training at Liverpool University to become a professional architect. After discovering that they shared similar tastes in dance music, the two began writing songs together. Lowe says there was never a conscious effort to form a group. I always used to spend a lot of time messing around on the piano at home, and Neil did the same on his guitar, he told DeMuir. We were just interested in music, and it seemed to develop and take off by itself. Tennant, on the other hand, had always wanted to be a pop star or actor. As a youth he was involved in local theater and played in a band. Tennant grew up in a suburb of Newcastle, England, where, according to Michael Goldberg in Rolling Stone, he saw both pop music and the theater as a way to escape the boredom of his life in suburbiaa theme that dominates Please.

Tennant was in New York City in 1983 to interview pop singer Sting for Smash Hits when he met Bobby Orlando, a well-known disco music producer whom Tennant and Lowe admired. Orlando liked what he heard of the Pet Shop Boystheir name was coined by a pet shop employee friendand soon both Tennant and Lowe were in New York recording a version of West End Girls for Orlando; the single would initially achieve only minor success in Europe. After a contract dispute with Orlando, the Boys signed with EMI in 1985 and began recording songs for Please. Their first release, (Opportunities) Lets Make Lots of Money flopped in England, thought it would later become a hit there. Undaunted, the duo decided to release West End Girls in the U.S. The recording took off this time; the Pet Shop Boys soon found they had a Number-One single on their hands and were famous on both sides of the Atlantic. (Opportunities) also reached Number One upon its re-release and the Pet Shop Boys have since produced a number of chart-topping dance records. Included among them are What Have I Done to Deserve This, featuring British vocalist Dusty Springfield, and a neo-disco version of the Elvis Presley recording later made popular by country singer Willie Nelson, You Were Always on My Mind.

Despite their success, and in fact, because of it, the Pet Shop Boys have had to contend with being called calculated, a description owing to their respective career backgrounds. Tennant, sometimes referred to as another pop-journalist-want-to-be-musician, has commented on this enduring misconception. He told Simmons: There was some reviewer that described us as clever pop strategists, whatever that means. People think that, because I was a journalist and all the rest of itand because Chris was an architectthat were very clever. Everythings very, very well thought out and planned down to the last detail, and were quite cynical about it and have a clever mix of different kinds of music. The truth of the matter is that we write songs that we like the sound öf. Tennant also discounted the influence of his work as a music editor. A lot of rock journalistsand I was exactly the sameoften have a complete misunderstanding of what its like for a group in the music business, he told Goldberg. I didnt really learn anything on that score from being a rock journalist.

The Pet Shop Boys are very controlled about their image, however, and take pains to distinguish themselves from other music groups. Their first live tourin 1989carne after years of planning and was a stage extravaganza that featured an emotionless Tennant and Lowe, in addition to a cast of dancerssome dressed as babies and pigselaborate costumes, and props including massive dolls. Were doing it like this because its what we want, Tennant was quoted in Melody Maker at the time of the shows premiere. Its how we want Pet Shop Boys to be presented. We always try to present ourselves as being separate from everyone else. This measure of calculation seems to be essential Pet Shop Boys. A Melody Maker reviewer, commenting on their stage show, wrote: Tennants lexicon of taste is conspicuously critical; thats to say hes objective, distant, dry, he believes he knows what ought to be. Consequently nothing about the Pet Shop Boys live happens by accident, theres no spontaneity. The reviewer added, however: Tennant looked amazing, looked distant, looked liked hed never met anyone. He wore a long, white fur coat, diamante broaches and a smile like Robert Morely in Theatre of Blood, the very picture of privilege and depravity. He was the Pet Shop Boys.

Selected discography

West End Girl (single), Bobcat Records, 1984.

Please (includes West End Girls, (Opportunities) Lets Make Lots of Money, and Love Comes Quickly), EMI, 1986.

Actually (includes Its a Sin and What Have I Done to Deserve This), EMI, 1987.

Introspective (includes Domino Dancing and You Were Always on My Mind), EMI, 1988.

Behavior, EMI, 1990.

Sources

Creem, September 1986; January 1988.

Melody Maker, February 2, 1986; January 3, 1987; July 11, 1987;October 3, 1987; May 13, 1989; July 15, 1989; July 22, 1989.

New York Times, November 7, 1990.

Rolling Stone, October 23, 1986; December 18, 1986/January 1, 1987.

Michael E. Mueller

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Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys, snide dance-pop hit makers of the late 1980s. Membership: Neil Tennant, voc. (b. North Shields, Northumberland, England, July 10,1954); Chris Lowe, kybd. (b. Blackpool, Lancashire, England, Oct. 4, 1959).

In their teens, both Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe played in bands, Tennant working with a group called Dust, Lowe playing trombone in a dance band. Both put these pursuits behind them during college, Tennant studying history, Lowe architecture. After finishing school, Tennant took an editorial position at Marvel Comics, preparing U.S. comics for distribution in England. He took several other publishing jobs before moving to the English rock magazine Smash Hits. He met Lowe at an electronics shop and they discovered many common interests, especially dance music. They started to write together, initially calling themselves the West End Boys, but changing that to the Pet Shop Boys after some friends who actually worked in a pet shop. They thought the name made them sound like an English rap group.

The Boys mostly worked on tape, making demos of their clever dance tunes. Lowe discovered a talent for creating remarkable textures with synthesizers and samplers that only became keener as the group developed. Tennant brought along a demo tape on an assignment in N.Y. and gave one to producer Bobby Orlando. Orlando pioneered High NRG dance music, a genre for which Tennant and Lowe had a fondness. Orlando liked what he heard and offered to produce a record of their song “West End Girls.” It became a minor club hit (in that version). The record attracted the attention of Parlophone records, and after negotiating a deal with Orlando, the duo signed to Parlophone. Tennant left his job at Smash Hits and they went into the studio with producer Stephan Hague, recutting “West End Girls.” The single came out in the fall of 1985, reaching #1 on the English charts shortly after the first of the year. By the end of 1986, it had topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, and several other countries. They released their debut album, Please, in the spring of 1986. With a boost from the #10 follow-up single “Opportunity (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” the album rose to #7 and went platinum. Capitalizing on this success, a record of remixes was released before the year was over.

In the summer of 1987, the duo released “It’s a Sin.” They filmed a video with Derek Jarman, highlighting the seven deadly sins. It began a long relationship with the director. The song topped the English charts, rising to #9 in the U.S. That fall, it was on their sophomore album, Actually. Another track on the album featured Dusty Springfield dueting with Tennant on the track “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”—it hit #2 in the U.S. The album, however, only rose to #25, selling gold.

In August of 1987, The Pet Shop Boys performed on a British TV special commemorating the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. They performed “Always on My Mind,” without plans to release it. However, the performance proved so popular that they issued it during the holiday season in England, where it reached #1 during Christmas. The single came out in the U.S. the following spring, rising to #4. It also appeared on their next album, released later that year, Introspective. With the help of a single that coincided with the album’s release, “Domino Dancing,” which hit #18, the album went gold, topping out at #34.

Over the next two years, the duo toured, produced part of an album for Dusty Springfield, and an entire album for Liza Minnelli. Tennant and Lowe both worked with the New Order/Smiths offshoot Electronic, but finally found time to put together their own project, 1990’s Behaviour. Original disco kingpin Harold Faltemeyer produced, with Johnny Marr from The Smiths and Electronic playing guitar. A less lyrically scabrous album than their previous releases, it didn’t fare as well. However, they remained popular enough, especially in England, to be given their own custom label, Spaghetti Records. The label released several records by young dance artists through the early 1990s. In 1992, the Pet Shop Boys contributed to the soundtrack to the Neil Jordan film The Crying Game. At Jordan’s suggestion, they produced an updated version of the 1964 Dave Berry title song, using former Culture Club frontman Boy George as the vocalist. The record and film became enormous hits around the world.

In 1993, the Boys got back together with producer Stephan Hague and recorded Very. While there were no pop hits from the record, it went gold and rose to #20. A companion piece of less pop-oriented dance material, Relentless, was released at the same time. As popular as they were performing, they were earning fame as producers as well. They worked with David Bowie on the song “Hallo Spaceboy.” Tina Turner also invited them into the studio to produce the song “Confidential” for her.

During the second half of the 1990s, the Boys continued to be active both as a group and producers, although they failed to produce any major hits. Toward the end of 1996, they released their first new record in three years, Bilingual. With a heavy dose of various Latin American music, it was a reaction against Brit-pop. In 1998, Tennant produced the compilation 20th Century Blues: The Songs of Noel Coward.A charity project for the Red Hot AIDS Trust, he spent close to a year and a half putting it together. In 1999, the duo released Nightlife, one of their best, if thorniest, efforts. On the tune “In Denial,” Tennant duets with Kylie Minogue, singing about his being gay, at which point Minogue asks, “Can you love me anyway?” And thus the walls of pop music stretch just a little bit more.

Discography

Please (1986); Actually (1987); Introspective (1988); Behavior (1990); Relentless (1993); Very (1993); Bilingual (1996); Nightlife (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz

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