Back in 1981, both Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe went shopping at the same hi-fi store and met. Soon afterwards, they decided to form a group based on their love of dance and electronic instruments. Over 50 million in album sales later, the Pet Shop Boys is still going strong and has a loyal following. They’ve won many awards over the decades, including the brilliantly named Godlike Genius Award from the UK’s venerable NME magazine. Where to start in listening to this brilliant duo? Check out our 10 best Pet Shop Boys album list.
# 10 -Very Relentless
Also known as Relentless, this is the bonus disc that was included with 1993’s Very. It’s (a-hem) very different from Very and strong enough to stand on its own. This is a mostly instrumental uninterrupted dance version of six songs. Neil Tennant had trouble coming up with lyrics for Chris Lowe’s tunes, but Neil Tennant thought deserved to go out adorned with only a line or two because the tunes themselves were so strong. If you need an album to help give you energy while doing housework or when working out, then this is the album for you. It sounds better with repeat listening. Sadly, the disc itself is hard to find, but it lives forever on YouTube.
# 9 – Christmas
This was a five-track EP that was released just before Christmas on 2009. Although a short EP, it is a strong little body of work and enjoyable for repeat listening. Included is a fan favorite, “Viva la Vida/Domino Dancing” which is a mash-up of a cover of the Coldplay hit song with a bit of Pet Shop Boys’ hit “Domino Dancing.” Also includes a cover of the sly Madness song, “My Girl” and an alternative version of “All Over the World,” which originally appeared on Yes.
# 8 – Hotspot
Since it was made in Berlin, it was originally going to called that, until they realized Lou Reed had a classic album of the same name. They read about Berlin being a “hotspot” of the Cold War and changed the title. This is a dance-focused album with a couple of mellow tunes and strong lyrics. Songs include “Will-o-the-Wisp”, where the singer takes a hard look at a past gay lover, now wanting to live a “respectable” life. Also notable are “Monkey Business” (which is not about monkeys), the sullen but catchy “I Don’t Wanna” and the uncharacteristically happy “Wedding in Berlin”, which was originally written as a gift for a friend on his wedding day. The album came out in 2020 and sold well in the UK.
# 7 – Release
At least six different versions of this album have come out since it’s 2002 release, so we’ll focus just on the original version. This still has the classic Pet Shop Boys sound albeit in a slower tempo, but the lyrics are more detailed, getting into stories. This album also features a guitar – although it’s not a guitar. It’s treated keyboard samples to make it sound just like a guitar. Some fans do not like the album much because it is slower and more introspective than usual. However, it does show that the Pet Shop Boys were not just one-dimensional songwriters. Songs include “Home and Dry”, the brooding “Birthday Boy”, which features that not-guitar and the whimsical “E-mail”, which has sample from “West End Girls.” The title of the song may have also been a nod and a wink to a huge computer virus at the time called “I Love You.”
# 6 – Yes
The title, in part, was inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, we can.” In a way, Pet Shop Boys were going to reaffirm their dedication to upbeat dance songs with the title and cover design of a checkmark. Still, there are some dark tones, albeit presented in a playful exterior. One such song is the opening track, “Love, Etc.” which has dark harmonies with lyrics like, “You don’t have to be beautiful, but it helps.” Other songs include “All Over the World” and “Did You See Me Coming?” It came out in 2009 and was reissued in 2017.
# 5 – Introspective
As with many great albums, the record company hated it because it only had six tracks. When the Pet Shop Boys argued that David Bowie had a hit album with only six tracks, Station to Station, Introspective was released in 1988. These six songs are long dance tracks as opposed to what Pet Shop Boys had been done earlier – making collections of radio-friendly three-minute pop tunes. This album consistently scores high with fans posting in Pet Shop Boys websites. Although the album only hit #34 in America, it hit #2 in the UK.
# 4 -Please
This was their 1986 debut album and one of their best-selling albums. It got the peculiar title because Neil Tennant thought it would be funny for teenagers over the country to have to sound polite in order to buy the album, (“Can I have the Pet Shop Boys Please?”) This also originally was going to be a concept album of lovers running away together, making money by nefarious means and then deciding to be conventional. Includes the hits, “West End Girls” and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money”)”, which has since been used by a major car insurance company in America. It also includes fan favorites “Suburbia” and “Two Divided By Zero”, which includes a guest vocal from a Speak and Spell toy. The album was reissued in 2001 and again in 2009.
#3 – Behavior
Although this album did not do well in America, over time it has been considered a classic. The Pet Shop Boys decided to duck some technological trends in music at the time and stick with older synthesizers. Their songwriting hadn’t gone backwards, however. They tackled more somber subjects like jealousy in “Jealousy”, including a tense peppering of a lover with, “Where’ve you been? Who’ve you seen? You didn’t call when you said you would.” This also includes fan favorite “Being Boring”, a song which is anything but. Also includes a sharp look at the music industry with “How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously.” Originally released in 1990, the album was re-released twice.
# 2 – Very
This 1993 offering a favorite of many Pet Shop Boys fans, but it did not appeal to America as much as Europe. It’s a driving, dance album, but also has some real biting songs like “Can You Forgive Her?” Despite songs like that, it’s a much more “up” album than what than their previous albums. Other songs include one of their biggest hits in the UK, a cover version of the Village People’s “Go West”, and the weirdly cheerful, “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing.” Also check out “A Different Point of View”, about a lover’s tiff. Neil Tennant has noted that under the albums “shiny exterior”, there is a lot of angst, seen especially in “Dreaming of the Queen.” Fans just found this angst more palatable than from Behavior. To date, this has been the only number one album the Pet Shop Boys had in the UK.
# 1 – Actually
This 1987 album is arguably the strongest collection of original songs that thePet Shop Boys put out. There’s not a cover song to be seen. It showcased their sense of humor and their ability to tackle subjects beyond lost love. Decades later, they would still perform some of the tracks at their live shows. This contains one of their best loved songs, “It’s a Sin” which looks back in regret not at a lost love this time, but with regret at one’s whole life in the mirror of religion. Other songs include a funny look at a kept boy in “Rent” with the killer line “I love you, you pay my rent.” It does include a classic look at a guy stood up on a date, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, a duet with Dusty Springfield. If you only hear one Pet Shop Boys album, make it this one.
Top 10 Pet Shop Boys albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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