From jangly guitars to UK synth-pop, today we have the UK new wave duo, the Pet Shop Boys, and their second album, “Actually”. I wasn’t sure which collection of songs this album included, which I will come back to later, but it is album #435 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Combining dance, disco, intellectual pop and overtly British themes and sounds, the Pet Shop Boys are one of the biggest selling duos in British history. Featuring vocalist Neil Tennant and his instantly recognizable voice, along with keyboardist Chris Lowe, this record, while mostly new to me, was a very enjoyable listen.
Grabbing your attention quickly is the dance groove and urgency of “One More Chance”, and the beat of this entire album places you in a late 80s dance club that goes all night blended with heavy house music. The next song, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, is the one song I clearly recall from this album. What I didn’t realize then or now, was that it a duet with Dusty Springfield, who appeared in our blog back in 1968. A very nice resurgence and a great vocal pairing. The quirky track “Shopping” comes next, and although not a single from the album, it is a tune that definitely sticks with you after a listen or two. “Rent” is a softer track with Tennant in a much higher register, but again, very easy to listen to, like the entire record.
Perhaps my favorite on the entire album is the song “Hit Music”, which also was not one of the four singles from the record. The driving opening beat reminds me a bit of a disco replication of the theme to Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini, and there is something wonderfully retro and ultra-modern about the Pet Shop Boys all at once.
Side two is not quite as memorable, but enjoyable to listen to nonetheless. Like many of the albums from the ‘80s, it certainly captures the feel of that bouncy decade and was a great look back. The one song that I hoped would be on this album, but wasn’t, was their most iconic track, “West End Girls”, which came from their first record. I claimed this song as a variation on my last name, and would sing endlessly to anyone who would listen, usually after a long night in the bar, about “Weston’s Girls”. Of course, the irony of this was that all of these girls were completely imaginary, as I sang this poorly to my equally girl-less friends. At this point in my life, I finally found one girl, but the comical memories of this sad tribute had to come out here. “In a West End town, a dead-end world, The East End boys and Weston’s girls..Dave Weston’s girls”.