25 Albums – Pet Shop Boys – Actually

Part of the 25 Albums project.

Spotting a trend yet? Not one for the rock music, me. Maybe later in the list.

The Pet Shop Boys’ second studio album was the one that really pushed them out, with several chart hits. They had the 1987 Xmas Number One, with a song that still makes me tear up, the cover of Presley’s Always On My Mind (which didn’t appear on this album, but never mind). It was just what everyone was into, and I had a taped copy from Paul, or Gavin. I listened and listened…

One More Chance

“The city is quiet, too cold to walk alone, strangers in overcoats hurry on home”

This album always had a very “London” feel. This was the late ’80s, with large amounts of development along the banks of the Thames, new sterile yuppie communities springing up and images of “strangers in overcoats” hurrying on home. This song always made me think of what it would be like to live in the capital, in a modern flat in the Barbican, for example, or in the new Docklands area. A clean slate of an environment, and a clean slate of a life. No history, or at least a history buried under smooth concrete and frosted glass.

Musically, this album has quite a few similar tracks. Despite the fully electronic instrumentation (I think it was one of the first to be performed on digital instruments, mastered digitally, and then distributed on a digital format, that is, the CD ([D][D][D])) it’s the organic sounds that strike you here. The tom-toms, the strange sampled “meep-meep” sound, and most evocative of all, the squeal of tyres in the underground car park.

In common with many tracks on this album, it combines some quite sparse sounds and drums, with atmospheric strings and piano, all given a big space with some reverb. Lovely stuff.

What Have I Done to Deserve This?

“Now I can do what I want to – forever…”

The video for this always makes me smile. Backstage rushing about, dancing girls getting ready, and the Boys just doing their standing around thing, while Dusty grooves as the curtain goes up. PSB had wanted to do a big theatrical performance tour around this time, but couldn’t afford it. Later they could, and Performance was the result.

This is a classic story spelled out in song. Broken relationships in an unfamiliar (to me) place and time. I wonder what it would have been like being of “dating” age when this album came out. Or at least 30.

When Dusty Springfield sings her second verse, and the strings take off, it makes me shiver.


“I heard it in the House of Commons, everything’s for sale”

Little bit of politics. There were lots of de-nationalizations around this time, with electricity, gas and telecoms companies all being sold off. Add to that the fact that the new entrepreneurialism was sweeping away lots of traditional industry, and Thatcher (may the ground swallow her) was cementing her leadership. Yuppies, free market enterprise, those who can’t streamline go to the wall (“what wall?”), “no such thing as society”.

Musically, not a great one. More sampled voices used as instruments, electronic horns, and so on. Let’s move on.


“You buy me things, I love it.”

A classic, and another twisted love story. Quite the giveaway as well. There were those who thought PSB tried to hide the gay aspect of their music and background. Fools. Famously (?) covered by Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, this one. It hangs around in a melancholy key, but some phrases lift themselves up into a more optimistic space, before dropping back.

Hit Music

“… all night long to your desperate hit music”

Quite a barnstormer. Cunning use of string hits, and touches of sampled crowd noise to make a point. Pop music is an outlet. You work the working week, then dress up and head out for your dose of hedonism. A bit like Soft Cell’s Bedsitter, except you get the impression that the subject of this one has a job.

I like the way this one switches to a slower groove for the fade-out, leaving a nice space for the next song…

It Couldn’t Happen Here

“In six-inch heels, quoting magazines”

A slowie! The title theme for PSB’s movie starring them and a crazed Joss Ackland! I never saw the movie, funnily enough, but I loved Ackland’s manic grin on the cover of Always On My Mind.

The lyrics refer to Tennant’s early days in London, when they “were never being boring”. Optimism, friendship, followed by sadness and disappointment.

It’s a Sin

“I didn’t care and I still don’t, understand?”

A real breakthrough hit for PSB. Big stab at Catholic school education and an apocalyptic trashing of Catholic guilt. Weird sample about “20 seconds…” or something. Big blarey horns and synths, great beat.

I Want to Wake Up

“I stood at the kitchen sink, my radio played songs like Tainted Love and Love Is Strange

Talking of Soft Cell. A bizarre love triangle, a kitchen sink drama that mentions the kitchen. Musically, pretty similar to most of the rest of the album.


“If I didn’t love you, I would look around for someone else”

I didn’t like this one when it was released as a single. But repeated listening on the album melted my resistance a bit. It’s a bit like It’s A Sin, but not quite as triumphant. Strings and synths again, with a swirling guitar, is that?

I was unaware that Ian McKellen played the Nosferatu-like protagonist in the video.Would that have changed my initial opinion? Hard to say, considering I didn’t know who he was at the time. Still, a favorite now.

King’s Cross

“I’ve been hurt and we’ve been had. You leave home, and you don’t go back”

Prescient indeed. In my original taped copy of this album, this song overran the end of the tape, and as it was a slowie, I wasn’t that bothered. But it rounds off the London feel of the album. Stations, streets. It touches on homelessness, street life, drugs. It’s one of the reasons I liked PSB so much – they had one foot in the gutter and one in the… perhaps not penthouse, but a nice flat in Islington at least.

I was interested to read that The Sun tried to get PSB to release this one as a charity single after the fire, but they refused. I bet that didn’t endear them to the noble, upstanding integrity-ridden Sun or their highly intelligent and dispassionate readership.

Overall, the tracks seem to fall into two types, the string-laden reverb-y slowies which ended each side of the vinyl or cassette versions, and the rest, which were mostly simple synth-and-drum-machine workouts. Standouts were It’s A Sin and What Have I Done To Deserve This?. Another example of an album which grabbed a time and place for me.

“Stop the car! I’m getting out!”