Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls

First Hit #1: May 10, 1986

I’ve complained that we’ve reached the point where the charts were screaming for something new, and the Pet Shop Boys came along to inch in a new direction. Sure, it’s still synth-pop that’s deeply indebted to the New Wave movement, but it’s also folding in some hip hop influences and moving in its own darker direction, a sound that is a baby step into new areas and new sounds. It’s still ’80s moody synths, but it’s slightly different.

I mentioned hip hop influences, but this is not hip hop, it’s the sound of a couple British guys listening to hip hop, appreciating the ideas, and then making something that’s a bit more relevant to their own lives and their voice. It doesn’t sound like rap, Neil Tennant’s monotone delivery doesn’t really try to do the same thing as most rap artists. Instead, it helps paint a downbeat portrait of inner city pressures that combines with the heavy synths to create a moody atmosphere and their own, distinct sound. The influences combine to create something distinct.

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One Response to Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls

  1. RBerman says:

    I’m going to assume that your reference to “Inner City Pressure” is a wink to that Flight of the Conchords song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wqfcwgT0Ds) parodying this Pet Shop Boys song. Otherwise the world may collapse from serendipity.

    The music marketing machine knows that especially for teens still evolving their sense of identity, music acts as a tribal marker. The kids who listen to the Grateful Dead are supposed to scorn Whitney Houston. Doors fans shouldn’t enjoy Frank Sinatra. So-called alternative music was allegedly a rejection of the flamouyance of hair metal and its glam rock predecessor. Never mind that Jim Morrison said he was trying to sing like Sinatra, or that Nirvana had a hit with a David Bowie cover. The listening public, at least of a certain age, uses music for much more than just aural pleasure.

    Professional musicians on the other hand act, well, professionally. They show little respect for such artificial boundaries, which have no place in their world either commercially or artistically. Diana Krall is married to Elvis Costello. Little Big Town covers Lady Gaga. (no, seriously. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1LRh4R1a7I)

    So on one level, “East End Girls” is not at all what people are talking about when they say, “I like/hate rap music.” Rap music encompasses a whole host of aesthetic signfiers of visuals and culture an ocean away (literally) from the London class politics described by Tennant and Lowe. And as you note, Tennant’s dispassionate delivery owes more to that legendary British stoicism than to the rabble-rousing antics of Grandmaster Flash or Run-DMC, though the day of mellower rappers like Will Smith and LL Cool J is not far off.

    Still, I’m more a lumper than a splitter at heart. I like contemplating the thread of rhythmic delivery linking Pet Shop Boys forward to Public Enemy, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj, but also backward to Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and Music Man’s “Rock Island” (starting at 0:45 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ9U4Cbb4wg).

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