The ’80s were typically marked by the cheery excesses of the age, but not all beat makers subscribed to that formula. While there was no shortage of cleverness, it was often wrapped in a poster friendly smile. Pet Shop Boys were one band that managed to bring a level of restrained sass to the dance floor, in what was the opposite of acts like Wham or Culture Club.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe had met in London and started writing songs together for a few years before settling on the name The Pet Shop Boys. The band really took off as a working concept Tennant (who was working as a music journalist) went to NY to interview Sting.
After a chance meeting with a dance music producer, Tennant and Lowe would record a single. “West End Girls” would be the result of that chance meeting and became a hit in America and later England (oddly enough as an import). When Please was released in 1996, the world had already fallen in love with electrofunk of “West End Girls”. It’s funky bass line and clever lyrics transcended the clubs to dominate the pop charts. Other successful singles would follow like “Opportunities (Let’s make Lots of Money), Suburbia and ‘Love Comes Quickly’. In all, Please has sold over 3 million copies to date.
Like almost every band who got its start in the ’80s, the visual aspect was just as important as the sound. The band worked closely with photographers and designers (usually Mark Farrow) to craft a tailored looked that played on a brains (Tennant) and brawn (Lowe) theme. Looking back it was all very camp, but then again to many Americans, all English artist during the ’80s looked gay.
Tennant has made it no secrete that he generally had disdain for most types of music, especially the happy pop music of the ’80s. This underlying cynicism would permeate the band’s image and lyrics. Often Pet Shop Boys shows were high energy bouts of electronic dance music and elaborate light shows, but the duo themselves were often lifeless in a way that suggested indifference to being on stage. Showing contempt for the expected order of things only bolstered their reputations as witty style makers.
This image is also portrayed on album cover art where the two look displaced from whatever music they were peddling. It was kind of sarcasm more likely to be seen from a punk band than a dance oriented one. It was disco that The Pet Shop Boys were making as they proudly burned all bridges to to most other forms of pop music.
With no shortage of style, camp and sexual ambiguity, The Pet Shop Boys became the poster boys for accessible club cool. They would continue their success with a string of single wort titled albums that would see them still making music today with no waning of sass or relevance in a world that has caught up with their kind of post digital sarcasm.