Wednesday, 30 April 2014

ELECTRONIC INSPIRATIONS #2: PET SHOP BOYS - INTROSPECTIVE

It is hard to overstate how important a band the Pet Shop Boys are. Their contribution to British pop music deserves constant praise, from the perfection of What I Have Done To Deserve This to the sheer brilliance of So Hard, to pick two examples at random. Like most people of my era, growing up I was a huge fan and it was a time when they seemed to be in the Top 10 every week cornering the pop market with Erasure as both bands produced classic single after classic single. Pet Shop Boys have always been more than a singles band with a catalogue of genuinely brilliant albums and for years, Behaviour has been my favourite. Its' mix of nostalgia, pop and melody make it near perfect. This whole series is about electronic inspirations however, and that is what I want to look at Pet Shop Boys' second greatest album, 1988's Introspective.


The album was released on 11 October 1988 and it instantly altered any preconceptions I held about the band. Instead of the tried and tested pop formula of Please and Actually, the band put out a 6 track album with each song lasting over six minutes with every song firmly focused on the dancefloor. Each of the 4 singles released from the album were classic Pet Shop Boys' singles in their own right and each was a pop gem along the lines we had come to expect from the band. That said, one of these singles was Always On My Mind which was released some 11 months before the album came out so it's tricky to suggest that its release was truly part of the Instrospective release campaign. I'm not going to find fault with that however, as the band's version of Always On My Mind remains one of the greatest pieces of music anyone has released ever. 

Anyway, back to Introspective. Other than Always On My Mind, the singles released were Domino Dancing, Left To My Own Devices and It's Alright. The first two were the only tracks written for Introspective, the remaining four consisting of two covers (Always On My Mind and It's Alright), an old b-side (I Want A Dog) and a cover of a song that the Pet Shop Boys wrote for Eighth Wonder (I'm Not Scared). They covered their own song - at least I think that's how you'd put it. 



The album opens with the stunning Left To My Own Devices, a track that manages to sound like the world's biggest orchestra playing in the middle of a club and which has one of the greatest choruses of all time. From there we're straight into I Want A Dog, a tale of loneliness that is driven along by an almost acid like bass. Chris Lowe has always had one eye on the prevailing club scenes of the time and dances influences inf you want to call them that have always been prevalent in PSB's music. Much more than just a pop band you see. Track 3, or the end of side 1 in old money, is the mindblowing Domino Dancing. What does this track not have? We've got a Latin influence, perfect synth sounds, dance beats, housey piano and yet another classic chorus. In the midst of all that we have a sort of scratchy, basey breakdown that smacks the listener right in the face. Majestic.


The sound of a fairgound heralds the start of Side 2 as we swoop into I'm Not Scared. This version is so far superior to Eighth Wonder's version it's silly. The atmosphere of the track changes entirely from their version and it is a really is a wonderful thing. The penultimate song is a 9 minute version of Always On My Mind called Always On My Mind/In My House which is almost indescribably good. It twists and turns the band's 7" version adding heavy bass, ahead of their time beats, more housey elements and a mid section rap by neil that is actually fantastic. All this carries on and then suddenly builds to a euphoric climax that I defy anyone to listen to and not enjoy. Staggeringly good. Finally, continuing the house theme, we have It's Alright, a cover of a track by Sterling Void. As well as the many elements mentioned above we have a choir thrown in at the start which is no bad thing at all.

An electronic influence then? Certainly. In releasing Introspective, Pet Shop Boys tore up the pop rule book and showed that 12" remixes weren't just something for 12" singles. They made a genuinely brilliant album where innovative takes on the the prevalent club and dances scenes merged effortlessly with their trademark pop brilliance. This strange album sold 4.5 million copies worldwide which is extraordinary and a testament to just how good it is. If you haven't heard it, have a listen - you'll be impressed. 

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