Making Pet Shop Boys: Electric
What started out as a possible electronic side-project soon became Pet Shops Boys: Electric… By John Earls
According to Neil Tennant, Pet Shop Boys have twice written the perfect pop song. Few fans would dispute Being Boring as one of them; the other, intriguingly, is Vocal, a piece Tennant cites as a song that could carry on indefinitely without ever, er, being boring. Not only is it sublime, it’s also a key moment in the arc of Pet Shop Boys’ career.
Along with Electric’s opening song Axis, Vocal was written during the sessions for Elysium; Indeed, it is the only song the Pets have ever previewed live before its release. Not only that, but it ended the shows on the Pandemonium tour instead of traditional set-closer Go West, which was a ballsy move.
So if Elysium was designed to contrast to its poppy predecessors Fundamental and Yes, Electric was a reaction to the melancholia of Elysium. In fact, Electric was made partially in response to a fan review.
Neil Tennant has admitted to googling his band’s name every few days to keep up on what information is in the public domain; after a YouTube comment on Elysium said people wanted “more banging and lasers”, Tennant told Popjustice: “We thought ‘Alright, then! More banging and lasers – here it comes!’”
The idea of covering The Last To Die from Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album Magic might seem to follow the anti-rockist stance of their demolition of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name, but the pair actually love the song.
It was the idea of Chris Lowe’s sister Vicki, who played The Last To Die to him thinking it’d make a good Pets Shop Boys cover. “We immediately started doing a version of it,” Tennant told Wow 247. “We thought the guitar riff would make a great synth riff, but it actually ended up being a vocal riff.”
A similarly unlikely move came with Example’s appearance on Thursday. His part was initially going to be taken by a Nicki Minaj sample, but producer Stuart Price was working with Example at the time and it seemed obvious to get the London rapper in to see what he could do.
Love Is A Bourgeois Construct takes its title from a line in David Lodge’s 1988 novel Nice Work. It was their most audacious marriage of full-on dance and detailed storytelling since Left To My Own Devices, and Lowe summed up its approach to Wow 247: “It’s got a giddy-up bassline, which we haven’t had for a while”.
17th century baroque composer Henry Purcell gets a co-writing credit because his opera King Arthur was sampled on Michael Nyman’s 1982 minimalist classic Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds – the real inspiration for Love Is A Bourgeois Construct.
That song was going to simply be called Bourgeois, which explains its position in the tracklisting of Electric: note how the rest of it is in alphabetical order. Bizarrely, that’s also the order the songs were recorded in, at Stuart Price’s insistence.
Price’s first musical memory was of “taping my Sony Walkman to my BMX so I could listen to Pet Shop Boys at all times”, and he got his first keyboard so he could learn how to replicate Chris Lowe’s parts.
Before he got to work with the duo, Price became a successful dance musician under the aliases Jacques Lu Cont and Les Rythmes Digitales. Überfans working with their heroes can often lead to complications, but in the case of Stuart Price, the duo felt it was a totally natural fit.
Price considers Electric to be a spiritual heir of Disco, telling Spin: “Disco blended song arrangements with dancefloor mixes; Electric allows songs to be full-length without considering the pop rules.”
It’s been such a successful relationship that Pet Shop Boys’ biggest gripe seems to be that Price insists on having daytime TV on too loud during recording.
Enjoy this article on the making of Pet Shop Boys: Electric? Then check out our feature on their classic album Very