Beitrag mit Interview-Einsprengseln,
im "Daily Telegraph" 21.02.2018,
aus Anlass der kommenden Welle FL 1 bis 3.
Keine Neuigkeiten, aber ein
paar aktuelle Popmusik-Ansichten vom Pop-Lehrer himself.
Gut, dass das letzte "critically-acclaimed" Album der Boys erwähnt ist.
Tennant/Lowe sollten das im Bezug auf die Planung für das nächste Album
nicht aus dem Blick verlieren.
Man könnte ja, so wie einst bei Herrn Farrow anläßlich "Release", den Anruf diesmal
bei Herrn Price machen: "wir machen diesmal was anderes".
Mir scheint bei Herrn Tennant ist der Geist willig, bei seinem Sidekick
bin ich mir da schon lange nicht mehr so sicher, aber was weiß ich schon.
Pet Shop Boys
Longevity: Pet Shop Boys’ career has
spanned more than three decades
The trouble with pop music today
In a drowsy private members’ club in London’s Soho, Pet Shop Boys
are doing something they don’t ordinarily relish: reminiscing.
But, as they’re here to discuss the reissue of their first three albums,
they don’t have much choice. They can’t, then, wholly shirk questions
about the first time they met Dusty Springfield, with whom the electronic duo
collaborated on their glorious 1987 hit, What Have I Done to Deserve This?
“We were sitting at the entrance of Advision Studios [in central London],”
begins lead vocalist Neil Tennant, “and suddenly the door swung
open and in came Dusty wearing high-heeled boots and black leather.”
“I thought it was a pink shell suit,” murmurs keyboard player Chris
Lowe, frowning. “We felt slightly terrified,” continues the singer, now a dapper
63-year-old with a warm, professorial air. At that time, he remembers, the
then-reclusive Sixties legend “had turned into this figure of almost mythical
problems. Dusty was assumed to be a nightmare on a personal level.
Couldn’t sing any more. Probably some sort of drug addict. Whispers of
sexuality, which was regarded as a problem. But the minute she walked
in she was really sweet. And it was immediately evident she could sing
as well as ever.”
What Have I Done to Deserve This?, a verifiable Eighties classic,
appears on the band’s second album, 1987’s Actually. Next month, the
album will be re-released in a lavish, multiple bonus tracks reissue,
alongside their 1986 debut Please, and 1988’s Introspective. These three
albums, three hits in three years, were what established the duo - Tennant
the frontman, Lowe his never-know-ingly-animated sidekick - as a
double-act without peer in British pop music. In that first flush of success,
Pet Shop Boys had hit after hit. These encompassed 22 Top 10 singles, four
of them number ones: West End Girls, It’s a Sin, Always on My Mind
Not that a discussion of the duo’s beginnings will persuade them to
abandon firmly policed, career-long interview parameters. When I ask
Lowe for his first impressions of Tennant when they met in August 1981,
he replies: “Well, we don’t really answer personal questions like that.
We’ve learned over the years not to.” But then the deadpan 58-year-old
relents. “I remember Neil’s walk. His gait. Head held high and marching
down the street at a rapid pace. And I’ve always scurried along behind,
trying to keep up.”
“If you’ve seen the video for West End Girls, that’s exactly how it is -
and is to this day,” agrees Tennant.
Pithy, witty, wry, self-deprecating, these forward-facing, pop-loving
northerners (Tennant from Tyneside, Lowe from Blackpool, both their
accents gently present) don’t “do” nostalgia. They prefer to focus their
efforts on still-vital albums (they released their 13th, Super, in 2016),
and on music and projects that deftly pivot between the boldly commercial
and the unashamedly arty and experimental.
Their CV includes pointedly thought-provoking pieces such as a
BBC Prom about computer pioneer Alan Turing, hounded to suicide for
his homosexuality; bold collaborations, ranging from a ballet at Sadlers
Weils (The Most Incredible Thing) to a musical, Closer to Heaven, with
playwright Jonathan Harvey and avant-garde detours - a soundtrack
to the silent movie classic Battleship Potemkin - alongside theatrical live
tours. Their current production, inspired by the Super album, has been on
the road, on and off, since debuting at London’s Royal Opera House in July
Yet they remain instinctively and authentically populist too, and
discuss with genuine consternation the changing nature of pop music.
Former music journalist Tennant (pre-psbs he was a senior editor at Smash
Hits in its early-eighties heyday) remains an undying champion and
student of the form, and clearly keeps a weather eye on the Top 40,
bemoaning the demise of Top of the Pops.
“I still think it’s weird the BBC doesn’t have a weekly pop
programme, because the chart now is pretty interesting.” In the streaming
era, he says, the movement of records up and down the rankings “is
more volatile, [but also] records hang around for ages like they did in the
Sixties. And also a generation has now missed out on the archival thing
of a Top of the Pops performance from Arctic Monkeys or One Direction or
Justin Bieber. And that’s a shame.”
Equally, they will admit to missing the sense of creative competitiveness
that existed between themselves and fellow chart travellers they rated:
acts like Wham! and The Human League.
“Chris used to always dream that he’d heard George Michael’s new
single on the radio,” says Tennant, “and I’d be really annoyed. Nowadays the
way to feel creative competition with people is [being] on Pharrell’s album
or on Eminem’s album,” he adds. “I feel disappointed looking at the
poster for Eminem’s new album, and seeing that he’s got Ed Sheeran and
Beyonce. It looks to me like he’s sold out.”
“It’s a checklist,” murmurs Lowe in agreement. On the other hand, they
don’t miss the closeted, knee-jerk aspect of the Eighties, even if Tennant
insists that there wasn’t any overt or covert pressure for the pair to
keep their sexuality secret. “The subject was never mentioned,”
he says - although that’s surely a pressure all of its own.
(Lowe to this day has never publicly discussed his orientation.)
“When I came out in a magazine interview in 1994 or whenever it
was, one of the reasons I’d never done it before is because I always
thought we’d then be characterised as ‘outrageous gay singer Neil
Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys’. And of course that did then happen.”
But now, “there’s never been a better time to be gay. Now, if you’re
Sam Smith, it’s not such a big issue. That’s obviously a good thing,
as I always thought it was. I’m not saying it doesn’t not matter any more.
But it doesn’t matter anything like the way it used to.”
For all the artful confessionals contained in their songs, Pet Shop
Boys have recorded only one whollypolitical album, 2006’s Fundamental.
It was dedicated to two gay Iranian teenagers executed by the
regime in 2005, and the first single, I’m With Stupid, satirised the
Bush/blair Special Relationship. The album was a critical hit, and entered
the UK album chart at number five - might the times demand another
forthright blast from these intellectual and engaged elder statesmen?
“It’s very difficult to make an overt political message in a gorgeous
pop record,” offers Tennant. “It’s not impossible - Ghost Town by The
Specials, or Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello. But they’re almost the only
two examples! You’d have to construct something.” One might, he
ventures, do this by writing something “that gives an impression
without [directly] saying ‘I’m against Brexit’, but of course that’s hard,
because it takes artistry.”
It’s that love of artistry that makes Pet Shop Boys keep on keeping on.
More than three decades since they embarked on one of the greatest
journeys in British popular music, they’re about to begin writing again,
still in search of that perfect pop song.
Recalling once again the earlydays, Chris Lowe reflects on how the
career-making West End Girls was a flop on its original 1984 release
(it was re-recorded and hit number one the following year) and he couldn’t
find it in record shops. Neil Tennant’s memory is even more acute,
alighting on the song’s sole Radio 1 play, and how the DJ “took the
p— out of it”.
“You have to remember, when you haven’t had a hit, you think it
most unlikely that you will have a hit. But we were prepared to pursue
the fantasy. I could have gone back to journalism, Chris could have become
an architect - he did finish the exams.”
“But being us,” says Lowe, a smile dancing on his lips, “we just carried
on regardless.” The Please, Actually and Introspective reissues are
out on March 2.
‘There’s never been a better time to be gay. Now it’s not
such a big issue. That’s obviously a good thing’