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Artists Condensed: Pet Shop Boys (part two)

What makes us permissive concerning the creative direction of our artists? There's a blurry line between the work we're willing to accept and the stuff that'll turn us off immediately. Usually this has to do with a change of genre. Take, for instance, Celine Dion. She has her fanbase and it's made almost entirely of people who expect Celine to sing sentimental ballads and happy, inoffensive pop. If she were to all of a sudden record a death metal album, she would likely lose all but the most hardcore fans (and probably pick up a few new ones who like the irony). But if Celine Dion were to jump to a different but still familiar genre, like club or pop country, it might actually be acceptable. The fact is, there just aren't many artists out there we're willing to like when they don't do the thing that made them famous. Most of the time it's because they aren't that good at anything else, other times it's because we like keeping things easily categorized. The trick for artists who want to keep their audience is to expand as much as they can within their genre. This may not be fair, but that's the risk of turning art into business. The Pet Shop Boys have stuck pretty close to their electro-pop origins, but they've done some fairly interesting things beyond dance music. The original recording of "London" is already pretty bare-bones for the Pet Shop Boys, but I prefer this nearly-acoustic version. There are still some effects in there, but it's as close to intimate as they ever get. I've said it plenty of times by now; an artist's true talent is apparent in its most basic applications. This version of the song is little more than a spare piano and Neil Tennant singing his heart out. It makes me want to hear a whole album of Pet Shop Boys- Unplugged. Cleverness is a rare commodity in electronic music. Most of the time the lyrics surround either how much the singer is in love with someone or how much the singer wants to dance. There's nothing inherently bad about this, especially considering how stupid an electronic protest song would sound. Just the fact that this track hinges on a metaphor is enough to elevate it beyond the dance floor, but I also find it impressive that it's low-key and avoids slipping into a hook.
  • This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave
  • Rent
Synth pop is not the music of the intelligentsia, so any hint of cutting irony is pretty incredible. Pet Shop Boys+Kylie Minogue= British Pop Music: Condensed. This song and its accompanying video is what introduced me, and I'm sure many other people of my generation, to the Pet Shop Boys. In the late 90's there was a brief fad at IMAX theaters, which were brand new at the time. They played these 3-D movies that used special visors to create the "popping out" effect. They didn't really have plots, they were more like rides that lasted about 30 minutes. In one of them, this music video was stuck into the middle. I loved the song and they were kind enough to include the title of the track at the bottom of the screen. It's a timeless pop song that didn't get the exposure it deserves. That's why it's here.
  • It Couldn't Happen Here
  • Footsteps
  • Birth Day Boy
  • You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk
  • Se a Vida E
  • King's Cross
One of my favorite things about the Pet Shop Boys is that, while they do make jumpy dance music, they also have a firm sense of melancholy. I suppose all good artists do. In the end, that's what separates the greats of electronica from the forgettable fad-makers. Emotional diversity is the core of worthwhile artistry. The Pet Shop Boys haven't shown any signs of slowing down. They've got a new album coming out this year. I imagine Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe will be making music for the rest of their lives, which is fine by me. I'll be back next week with another artist. Until then, listen well.