Pet Shop Boys, Please

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 05.18.11 in Reviews


Pet Shop Boys

One of the many remarkable things about the Pet Shop Boys is that they were far more popular than their influences while introducing elements that logically should’ve made them less successful. Inspired by queer club anthems by Divine and the Flirts, the budding Latin freestyle sound epitomized by Shannon‘s breakout pop hit “Let the Music Play,” and the dancefloor-friendly end of post-punk epitomized by New Order, history major Neil Tennant and former architecture student Chris Lowe set off gaydar in a big way while also coming across unabashedly erudite about mass and highbrow culture: “West End Girls” quotes both Blondie and T. S. Eliot while offering class-conscious sociological commentary in the sprit of Grandmaster Flash‘s “The Message” but with as many specifically Angloid references as Blur or Pulp’s at their Brit-poppy-est.

Playful, smart, coy and catchy.

Heard today, PSB’s 1986 debut sounds like the progenitor of recent records by Yelle, Diamond Rings, and countless other indie-rock-approved but relatively small-scale dance acts. Please, however, sold three million copies worldwide; “West End Girls” topped the pop charts in both the UK and the US; follow-up single “Suburbia” was song of the year for massively influential Los Angeles modern rock station KROQ, and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” — a droll commentary on Thatcherism this lefty pair never would’ve written had they known they were actually about to turn a substantial profit — also charmed the charts.

Like then-contemporary hits by Peter Gabriel, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Scritti Politti, and many others, Please is a product of a time when smart Brits could do well in the international marketplace if their records also evoked an adventurous night on the town. It’s a tense record packed with both urbane exhilaration and brooding ambivalence: I’ve loved single-worthy second side opener “Tonight Is Forever” for the past 25 years, but I still can’t figure out if the relationship Tennant anticipates with his fellow club-addict fling will be a joyous union of kindred souls or a lifelong prison sentence: “We’re out again, another night, I never have enough/It will be like this forever if we fall in love.” The uplifting rhythms say one thing while the bittersweet melody suggests another. That, in a nutshell, is Please.