Being A Curation of Pop Groups, Passionate Fans And Musical Reviews Tackling The Pet Shop Boys Catalogue (With An Afterword by PSB)
The Pet Shop Boys’ 12th studio album will be released next week and it’s made me wonder once again about the resistance of mainstream American music buyers to the boys’ sneaky brand of pop. In one sense, it’s their own fault: PSB deals in Trojan Horse songs–smart, Sondheim-eque music and lyrics that are carefully disguised beneath a glittering surface of dance beats. This is the shared secret of the fan-base–the knowing glance that passes between Pet Heads when they meet: the knowledge that, stripped of their clubland trappings, PSB songs rival the Lennon/McCartney songbook in terms of craft and persistent quality.
The tactic of slyly camouflaged songs is of a piece with Pet Shop Boys’ carefully distancing George-and-George approach to pop music (and is part of their ongoing critique of pop, although that is another essay unto itself). Thus, if the PSB won’t help me demonstrate what’s going on beneath the swooping synths, maybe crowdsourcing will.
This is a curation of pop groups (some less known than others) and passionate fans (some less talented than others) who have one thing in common–each in their own way has managed to tease something emotionally resonant out of the PSB songs they chose to cover. I’d like to think that this was entirely due to insight, but I’m prepared to accept some of it was sheer luck–a getting lost in the songs in exactly the right way. But however it happened, they all got there–to the substantial and often moving writing that is at the heart of the Pet Shop Boys’ releases.
These covers are bookended by another kind of deconstruction–that of PSB’s public image. The first is the classic send-up of Pet Shop Boys on the French and Saunders show; the second demonstrates PSB’s own ironic self-awarness through the casting of David Walliams and Matt Lucas as themselves in their video of the drolly titled “I’m With Stupid.” See it as the boys’ reaction to all the covers of their work–cryptic but not obviously displeased . . .