Pet Shop Boys feat. Example – Thursday
Let’s return to the notion of the Imperial Phase, that period of invincibility where everything you do is huge and deemed better than everyone else simply by virtue of your own overwhelming popularity. A term coined by Neil Tennant, it’s usually quite short – Pet Shop Boys‘ own lasted from It’s a Sin through to Heart, so scarely a year. Lady Gaga‘s kicked in properly with Bad Romance and ended with Born This Way. Madonna‘s started with Papa Don’t Preach and arguably ended with Vogue. The end of this phase naturally coincides with a decline in record sales, and while these might climb depending on what you subsequently release, the cool factor is gone forever, and only a fool would continue to chase it.
The question is: what do you do when (to paraphrase Pet Shop Boys themselves) it’s not as easy as it was but not yet as it difficult as it could be?
Some give up immediately – Duffy springs to mind – while smart pop stars just crack on and make more records. In an odd way it might be quite refreshing to be released from the intense scrutiny that the I.P. brings with it, secure in the knowledge that however brilliant your next single is it still probably won’t get higher than no.13.
For a group whose own I.P. ended in 1988, Pet Shop Boys have lasted pretty well – their masterpiece, Behaviour, came out in 1990, and they achieved a commercial renaissance in 1993 with Very (which is still the best title for an album ever.) Since then it’s been a remarkably consistent pattern – album every few years, top 10 in its first week and out of the top 75 within a month. The fanbase may have dwindled with time, but their knack for writing brilliant pop hasn’t, and in the singles chart they remained a top 30 shoo-in right up until 2009. The digital age has ruined the chart stats for a lot of people, most notably U2 and Madonna – without a physical product or indeed anywhere on the high street to buy it, there’s none of that first-week fanbase motivation that often sent a single straight into the top 10. Combine that with a lack of Radio 1 airplay – entirely fair enough for a station aimed at people who weren’t even born when Achtung Baby came out – and top 40 becomes a distant memory. I am learning to live with that.
2013 brought the the twelfth Pet Shop Boys album, Electric. Produced by Stuart Price of Confessions on a Dance Floor fame, it was a marked departure from the previous year’s Elysium. There’s an unreleased PSB song called In the Club or In the Queue, and while Elysium was very much a “queue” record, Electric was firmly rooted in “the club.” It garnered some of their best reviews in 20 years and yielded the magnificent and really quite stimulating Thursday:
Used brilliantly over the closing credits of an episode of HBO‘s Looking, this is a song brimming with potential, and the potential for trouble of the saucy kind. Were it not for Example‘s mildly unwelcome rap it would sit perfectly on 1986’s Please, just after I Want a Lover, whose lyrics state “driving through the night…it’s so exciting” – Thursday is the perfect song for that activity. Sounding almost un-produced, it has the thrilling rawness that you get from early PSB demos and some of their b-sides.
The pairing of Tennant and Lowe with Price is a natural and brilliant one, so it’s good to know that they’re currently at work on a new album, hopefully for release this year. 27 years on from the end of their imperial phase, Pet Shop Boys are doing very nicely, thank you.
Entered chart: 10/11/2013
Chart peak: 61
Weeks on chart: 1
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Most people don’t have a lot of luck with Pet Shop Boys songs – East 17, Robbie, Girls Aloud, Inga (do search out her cover of Do I Have To?) – but as they might be in the middle of their own brief imperial phase, Years & Years.