Pet Shop Boys – Burning the heather

“As heather and grass plants become older, they become less palatable and less nutritious. The process of burning small areas removes the older growth and allows the plants to regenerate after the burn.”

Tom: You know it’s going to be a Deep, Artistic Album when bands start playing about with the capitalisation of their tracks.

Tim: Very true, and for the agriculturally challenged amongst us, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust provides a lengthy explainer. Key sentences: “As heather and grass plants become older, they become less palatable and less nutritious. The process of burning small areas removes the older growth and allows the plants to regenerate after the burn.” Now you know that, here’s the new Pet Shop Boys track.

Tim: Now, I don’t want to be accused of taking anything to seriously or anything, but according to that link heather burning typically happens October to April, with the vast majority of it happening in the spring – any earlier, you see, and the ground is dry and it’s harder to control, so the line ‘autumn is here and they’re burning the heather’ is, well, if not entirely incorrect then certainly dubitable, with its implication that we’re round about late August, early September. I just find it difficult to take seriously, really. Though, seriously, what are those lyrics about?

Tom: I’m not entirely sure, and that “hell for leather” lyric lands like a brick through a window. I’ve said here before that Tennant and Lowe are much better producers and remixers than they are pop songwriters. I don’t mean that as an insult: they’ve written some absolute bangers: It’s A Sin, Left To My Own Devices, New York City Boy, Rent, and, yes, more. Those are all good songs. They have a heck of a Greatest Hits album.

But the big, breakthrough, mainstream, radio-play pop hits, the ones they end the concerts with, are covers: Always On My Mind and Go West.

Tim: Huh, I’d never thought of that before, but you’re right. I’d also add The Pop Kids to that list, though.

Tom: So new Pet Shop Boys music needs to be seen in that light: it’s probably not going to be a Big Radio Smash Hit. But it is probably going to be a good song.

Tim: Fair, and it’s worth noting the music’s not bad. Certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear when I pressed play, mind, but then as soon as Neil’s vocals came along I was very “ah, yep there it is” and it sounded okay.

Tom: Yep. Once you manage your expectations of both music and instruments, this is a decent Pet Shop Boys track.

Tim: Dragged on a bit, though. A little bit.

Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland

“All it’s missing is a double-clap after every four bars.”

Tim: A pairing here that, in hindsight, is notable largely for the fact that it took long to happen – I saw this and thought “yes, of course they’re doing a song together”. BUT, the twenty trillion dollar question: is it any good?

Tom: Oh, listen to those synths! All it’s missing is a double-clap after every four bars. (I’m joking, but also, I did start adding them myself at one point.) You’re right, it’s good, although…

Tim: YES, even if I do want to sing FREAK OUT on top of the chorus.

Tom: Right.

Tim: It does, in fact, sound pretty much exactly what I’d expect a Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years song to sound like: nice electro beats, fairly gentle with nothing too heavy but an interesting backing nonetheless, and lyrics that are fairly interesting.

Tom: Along with a really innovating music video.

Tim: I like it – there’s a new album out in January, and this is a decent lead track.

Pet Shop Boys – Give Stupidity A Chance

“It would have been PERFECT for Eurovision, can you IMAGINE.”


Tom: I mean, satire traditionally has some subtext or subtlety to it. This feels more like a rant.

Tim: Perhaps, but a fun rant nonetheless, and also just under three minutes long which means it would have been PERFECT for Eurovision, can you IMAGINE.

Tom: Ha! Oh, if only. It’d never get past the BBC or the Eurovision rules, and it’d almost certainly die on the scoreboard, but I would have loved to see it.

Tim: Oh, well, never mind. Start out with Brexit, move through to Trump, it’s basically 2016 summed up in a pretty piece of music, because the melody of that one single line is just great.

Tom: It’s a bit of fluff, all simple and insipid melodies that… oh. Huh. I guess that’s the point. Clever.

Tim: It’s a shame, really – the lyrics mean this song will seem dated fairly quickly (hopefully, at least), but the tune, of the chorus and indeed throughout, is absolutely brilliant, and deserves to hang around a lot longer. OH WELL. There’ll be a few more tracks coming out over the next few days, with an EP of them all on Friday, and hopefully they’ll all be as fun (except for today’s, where Neil gets all old Man Yells At Cloud about social media). Super!

Tom: No, “Super” was the last album.


Saturday Flashback: Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind

“Congratulations, you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000!”

Tom: This week, we saw Pet Shop Boys in concert. It was an incredible gig, and as we left, I said I was surprised that they ended on a cover. And you said…

Tim: “Wait, it’s a cover?”

Tom: I quelled my initial reaction of “how could you not know that?” because, congratulations, you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000!

Tim: Hooray!

Tom: Always On My Mind is a country standard. It’s been recorded by dozens of artists — there’s a history on Wikipedia, of course — but I’d like to pick out just the two most popular versions that aren’t Pet Shop Boys, because the difference between them is astonishing.

The canonical version was sung by Elvis Presley, recorded just after he separated from his wife, and is one of his best-known and most loved records. In fact, the only reason the Pet Shop Boys version exists is because they performed it on a tribute-to-Elvis TV show.

Tim: Oh…oh, I do recognise that, now I hear it.

Tom: And it’s emotional. It’s an apology of sorts, and that’s certainly how it came across, but in hindsight it almost sounds like a passive-aggressive apology, the sort provided by someone who doesn’t know why they’re apologising, but knows that they have to. The instrumentation is almost triumphant.

Why do I say that? Because the hindsight is provided by Willie Nelson’s absolutely heartbreaking, wistful version, ten years later.

Tim: Ooh.

Tom: It sounds like an apology. It sounds like it should. Everything, from that one quiet “you did, you did” from a female vocalist in the first verse, to the instrumentation that somehow manages to avoid Elvis’s triumphalism despite being almost as large and full. It sounds like the song of someone who is genuinely sorry.

Tim: It really does. It’s an almost completely different song, and it’s lovely.

Tom: Despite my love for the Pet Shop Boys cover, to me, this will always be the canonical version of Always On My Mind.

Tim: Nice to know. I’ll throw in my two cents cents: looking at that Wikipedia article you linked to, I realised why the Pet Shop Boys’ version is the only one I really know: because it’s on my family’s primary Christmas compilation album, due to its Christmas number one status. Anyway, thank you very much for today’s education.

Pet Shop Boys – Happiness

“A huge amount of what I can only describe as ‘good stuff'”

Tom: We’ve been covering tracks from the new album as they’ve been releasing them. So far you’ve been more impressed than I have: and I’m wondering if this is going to switch that around.

Tim: I think you’re right.

Tom: Because what we have here has a clear base in Aviici’s style: a country-sounding sample with a load of EDM around it. Except this is also clearly the Pet Shop Boys’ synthpop style, with a huge amount of what I can only describe as “good stuff” added.

Tim: Hmm. I’m fairly sure there’s a reason they performed The Pop Kids when they were on Graham Norton’s show last week – because that really doesn’t do it for me. I love the vocal part, and indeed the instrumental underneath it. But the instrumental part between those sections just really doesn’t do it for me.

Tom: See, I have no idea why I like this so much. I shouldn’t: that lyric and melody should be cheesy, the electronic stuff’s chaotic, and I’m not even sure it works as a whole. But you know what? I immediately hit replay after it finished, and it’s a rare song that makes me do that.

Tim: And in future I can imagine myself sadly pushing the skip button when it comes along on the album.

Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids

“They have never stopped being brilliant. Not once.”

Tim: You want to know the best thing of all about Pet Shop Boys?

Tom: The unexpected guitar riff that pervades their Live 8 performance of “Go West”, which completely redefines the song without overwriting the original.

Tim: That is very good, but nope. I’ll tell you in a bit.

Tim: Right: basically, they have never stopped being brilliant. Not once.

Tom: Wait, hang on. They must have. They’ve got a hell of a lot of hits, sure, but they’ve got a few misses too.

Tim: I’m not so sure – three and a half decades, they’ve been going, and every single album they’ve released has made the top ten and their latest here is up there with the best. Off the top of my head, the only comparable band I can think of would be U2, and their lead singer is widely regarded as a bellend, so I think it’s obvious who wins there.

But anyway, this track, and of course it’s obvious that I, and basically every pop fan, is going to love it purely because they can identify with it.

Tom: Then I must be the exception.

Tim: Oh come now, don’t be silly. I myself certainly remember telling (and indeed still do tell) pretty much anyone who will listen that rock music’s overrated, and only this morning I quoted Shania Twain at someone. Even if I were coming at it from another angle, though, it’d still be brilliant – the lyrics tell a wonderful heart-warming love story about people and music, and the music behind it sounds great fits that perfectly.

Tom: Which is all well and good if that works for you: but without that, I’m not sure this is actually all that good a track? The early-90s synth patch is a decent choice, sure, but the melody’s sort of okay; the lyrics are terrible — he’s literally rhyming “pop kids” with “pop kids”; and it ain’t all that catchy. And let’s face it, that talking part’s pretty cringeworthy.

Tim: Thing with the lyrics is that they’re there to tell a story, and what you think of the lyrics will most likely be largely influenced by that story. I love it, and so love the lyrics. Melody and instrumental – hmm, well, maybe I wouldn’t choose to listen to an instrumental, sure, but it all works together for me. (And technically he’s rhyming “kids” with “hit” and “bits”, though I’m not sure that’s much better.)

Tom: This is, oddly, roughly what we thought of the last big Pet Shop Boys single: maybe it’s just that I have a higher bar, or — shockingly — different taste. But I’ll listen to Inner Sanctum over this, every time.

Tim: Well at least we’re agreed that Super will have at least one great track on there, and probably many more. And for me at least, their brilliance seems immortal – let’s truly hope it is.

Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum

“So much more there than your standard term of ‘pop song’ can possibly encapsulate.”

Tom: Drop everything there’s a new Pet Shop Boys single and it’s a BANGER.

Tom: Seriously, I wasn’t expecting that. They’ve had some good tracks on recent albums, but they’ve all been a lot calmer than this. This sounds like one of the really good remixes that ends up being relegated to a “digital-only presale” because it’s not what you expect from them.

Tim: Hmm – it says something that it isn’t billed as the first single – that’s coming shortly, apparently. But I think here we’re back to the composers issue, because this is a piece of music more than anything else. Yes, it’s a piece of music that at times is very, very close to a track by either Sash or Faithless (can’t quite place it now; it’s one of those two), and it’s a piece of music that doesn’t need quite such a lengthy intro, but still there’s so much more there than your standard term of ‘pop song’ can possibly encapsulate.

Tom: Yes, it builds a bit slowly, yes, I think I’d prefer it if it kicked into that final-chorus mode a lot earlier and went even BIGGER for the end, but it’ll do nicely. I’m marking this down as “floor-filler” and looking forward to the album.

Tim: And the Royal Albert Hall, because if the new stuff’s half as good as this then that £35 each will be a BARGAIN.

Saturday Flashback: Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas

“So many bells.”

Tim: Yes, they did a Christmas track – originally in 1997 as a fan club exclusive, and now the updated and re-edited version from the Christmas 2009 EP.

Tom: So many bells. So much promise from that initial, pounding synth line. That first verse, though…

Tim: Yeah, I can’t lie to you: a minute in I was close to giving up on this track, because as we all know Christmas is amazing and there’s just no need for this sort of negativity. Then, though, the strange BING CROSBY shout-out happened, and I was intrigued, and then, oh, then that fantastic chorus.

Tom: Yep. Everything about this is wonderful apart from that odd, atonal verse — and I suppose I can forgive that, because without darkness how can there be light etc etc MERRY CHRISTMAS

Tim: Because obviously, it doesn’t always snow at Christmas and yes, I suppose technically some of the other points they make are valid, but damn, it’s still wonderful and we still need to celebrate everything that’s right about it. How do we do that?

Tom: Bells.

Tim: Bells indeed, along with a wonderful chorus, the aforementioned weird shout-out, and occasional Hark The Herald Angels Sing refrain, because why not? As we all know, they sing GLORY, and that really does sum up this track. GLORY TO THE PET SHOP BOYS. Go on – I dare you to sing that in church this year.

Tom: Wait, you go to church at Christmas?

Tim: Oh yes – Jeffries family Christmas Eve tradition. Nice baked ham in the evening, then the grown-ups stay at home eating cheese and talking about grown-up stuff, the kids go to the pub and we all meet up in the church at 11:30, ready to sing our hearts out. Norwich loves us.

Pet Shop Boys – Love Is A Bourgeois Construct

Oh my word.

Tim: The third single, and second best track, from their latest album, with one of the most pretentious titles a song has ever had.

Tom: That is an astounding title. And bloody hell – is that a “6” I see in the “minutes” on the video?

Tim: Oh yes – strap yourself in.

Tom: Oh my word, that opening. That first minute. And then… oh wow. This is classic Pet Shop Boys. It’s amazing. And as I write this, I’m only three minutes into it.

Tim: What I like about this is the way it goes pretty much everywhere, with long, slow introduction than standard synth pop in the way that they do it, heavy beats later on through the chorus, and a breakdown near the end that sticks way out from the rest of the song.

It never really settles down into one thing in particular – even when you think the heavy chanting at the end is a fabulous way to end it, it suddenly goes all dreamy and elsewhere.

Tom: I do wonder if that’s there deliberately to make it “loop” in folks’ heads. After that outro, I want the main hook to come back… and so I hit play again.

Tim: Wonderful consequence of that: even at nearly seven minutes, the song doesn’t sound like its going on too long.

Tom: In a song like this, there are always going to be sections that don’t seem to work as well — and for me, they’re generally the bits where it deviates from “normality”. That glitchy middle eight seems wrong to me — but then, it does make that final chorus just glorious.

Tim: It also helps that the hook is fantastic. It seems really familiar – I don’t know if I’ve heard it before elsewhere or if I’ve just been listening to this a stupid number of times, but either way I like it.

Tom: You’ve almost certainly heard it before, although never quite in this form.

Tim: Ah, there it is.

Tom: Also, I have to mention the ludicrously pretentious lyrics. I’m not sure what else you could put there, though; somehow, I think generic lyrics about love would be worse. The fact the song works as an instrumental, though, is a testament to its strength.

Tim: Fans will be pleased to know that it’s been put right at the top of the Radio 2 playlist – quite how they’ll chop it down into a sensible-length radio edit I have no idea – so it’ll hopefully get quite a bit more attention than their other recent ones have, because it really deserves to.

Pet Shop Boys – Memory of the Future

“Where the hell have I heard this before?”

Tom: Where the hell have I heard this before, Tim?

Tom: Because I swear I know this from somewhere.

Tim: You do, or at least you know the intro and chorus bass line. Here. (Go on. Listen to that in full. You know you want to.)

Tom: Hmm. I’m not so sure about that – to me, it sounds like classic Pet Shop Boys. It could be a forgotten single dredged out of their 1980s period. And I mean that as a compliment. Somehow, that introduction melody strikes a connection in my head that I didn’t even know was there, and I don’t think it’s Lady Gaga. Given how much we’ve thought their recent singles were unimpressive… this seems to nail it.

Tim: Well, it’s alright. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as Winner – the chorus is good, but the verses leave me wanting more, and the fade-out ending’s as much a disappointment as ever. Another part of that may also be because all I want to do now is listen to Bad Romance on repeat, which I might actually go and do now.

Tom: Also, there’s a version with a full orchestra from their BBC Radio 2 concert, which does add a certain something.