Album of the Week, December 20: please by Pet Shop Boys

PSBpleasePet Shop Boys formed when journalist Neil Tennant and architecture student Chris Lowe met in an electronics shop. Both had some musical experience — Tennant on vocals, guitar, and cello; Lowe on trombone and piano — and a strong interest in dance music. They began working together, crafting songs while paying the rent with their day jobs. When Smash Hits sent Tennant to New York to review the Police, he took the time to meet with dance Bobby O. The producer was impressed with the Boys’ demo and agreed to record them. Those sessions yielded early versions of many later hits, including West End Girls. Growing dissatisfaction on both sides led Pet Shop Boys and O. to part company. Based on the club success of that work, however, the duo landed a deal with Parlophone, who eventually lined up noted producer Stephen Hague to man the boards for the long-time-coming debut album. The result was a dance-pop sensation, launching a smart, sneaky, superstar career.

Title please
Act Pet Shop Boys
Label EMI America Release Date March 24, 1986
Producer Stephen Hague
U.S. Chart  #3 U.K. Chart  #7
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Two Divided By Zero
  2. West End Girls [#1]
  3. Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) [#10]
  4. Love Comes Quickly [#62]
  5. Suburbia
  6. Opportunities (reprise)
  7. Tonight Is Forever
  8. Violence
  9. I Want A Lover
  10. Later Tonight
  11. Why Don’t We Live Together?

The opening track is the only song not credited to both Boys. Tennant wrote Two Divided By Zero with Bobby O. and it was included on the album as part of the settlement that dissolved their partnership. It’s a perfect introduction however, with dramatic synth work and a stirring, mysterious narrative. A bit cloak-and-dagger, a bit suburban escape, the track  announces the duo in grand style. Hague is a master sequencer, and the second track ups the ante. An international smash, West End Girls is a smart observational track, featuring Tennant’s now-famous speak-singing over an infectious beat. This one-two punch shows off the pair’s talent and pent-up musical splendor.

Opportunities is a delightful smack-down of Thatcherism. Somehow deadpan and enthusiastic all at once, its wry lyrics and delivery foretold another common theme in the PSB catalog. While the duo are best known as  cool, observant, and ironic, they also have a knack for very human songs. Love Comes Quickly has a great beat and you can dance to it. It’s also a gorgeous love song, switching up the energy of the album nicely and showing off one of Tennant’s finest vocals. Suburbia is another slice-of-life song, dissecting the calm surface of the hypothetical ideal life.

A strange little instrumental bit bridges the album’s two halves. Officially a reprise of Opportunities, it serves its purpose quickly and lets the groove switch back on. Tonight Is Forever is a strong club song, a soaring track that celebrates escapism and the power of music, however briefly they can be enjoyed. Things turn dark with Violence a nice counterpoint to Suburbia. The intervening tracks allow the sequence to read as a narrative of life in Thatcher’s Great Britain. I Want A Lover switches back to meeting the immediate need, another great club song with a smart edge.

Lush and literate, Later Tonight is a beautiful, haunting song with some great wordplay. Featuring a lovely piano line and a quiet synthesized string section, it evokes its own setting flawlessly. Things wrap up with Why Don’t We Live Together?, a near throwaway that allows the album to end on an optimistic note. With an aggressive drum machine and late New Wave keyboard work, it’s the most disco of the set, a curious coda that somehow works.

As would be the case with most Pet Shop Boys releases, please is almost all Tennant and Lowe. Roxy Musician Andy Mackay adds a sweet sax figure to Love Comes Quickly and Helena Springs provides an occasional secret weapon backing vocal reminiscent of Helen Terry’s work with Culture Club. Otherwise, the Boys know what they want and how to achieve it. This stunning debut serves as a clear mission statement, a great set of dance tracks, and a smart overview of the pair’s talents.

FURTHER LISTENING: Pet Shop Boys don’t have a bad album, but few fully match the power of please. Critics praised the commercially successful actually, their sophomore effort; for me, it manages to be more sophisticated and much less interesting than its predecessor. The best album in the Pet Shop is 1993’s Very, a powerful set of dance tracks brimming with maturity, confidence, and fun. It’s also sequenced as well as please, making it a delight straight through. A 30-year, 12-album career brimming with hits lends itself to compilations. The best are 2003’s two-disc PopArt and 2010’s Ultimate Pet Shop Boys, a less comprehensive single disc that hits all the high points.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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