Electronic – The Patience of a Saint
In May 1991 I was nearing then end of my first year at Glasgow University, and the biggest dilemma I’d faced so far was which union to join – as an arts student it was apparent my natural place was the Queen Margaret Union, but it was all a bit Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and The Wonderstuff for my liking. Then there was the Glasgow University Union, where all the medical and law types seemed to go, and I didn’t seem to fit in there either. So in the end I sacked off both and rarely set foot in either for the next four years, preferring to scoot into town to the type of venue where you could see Sinitta one week and her mother (Miquel Brown) the next.
Somehow – despite epic peer pressure – I managed to retain my total devotion to pop, and while everyone else on my floor in halls of residence made a point of playing R.E.M. loud enough for all to hear, from my room you were more likely to find the 12 inch of Bananarama’s Preacher Man blasting out. But there was one time we all ended up playing the same thing at an attention-seeking, anti-social volume, and that was when the Electronic album was released.
Electronic consisted of New Order’s Bernard Sumner, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr and occasionally Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys would drop in for a cuppa too. They’d made a very late challenge for best-single-of-the-entire-decade in December 1989 with Getting Away With It, one of a handful of records that I reckon is absolutely, utterly perfect. Despite actually having lots in common (Northern-ness, faint outsiderness, ways with a tune), the make-up of Electronic managed to unite certain tribal elements that might previously have viewed each other with mild suspicion – indie kids and pop kids. Their next single, the PSB-free Get the Message was, incredibly, also perfect – combining sonic swagger and lyrical self-doubt to create one of the most thrilling songs I’ve ever heard. I loved it so much I actually bought the t-shirt, and when I saw them play it live at the Barrowlands later that year it’s the closest I’ve ever come to moshing.
The album – which I will always associate with exams and therefore a certain amount of anxiety – remains one of my all time favourites to this day, and the only regret I have about it is that The Patience of a Saint wasn’t a single. Aside from its complete brilliance, I bet it would have had a really nice sleeve.
The least shouty track on the album (until Getting Away With It got tacked on for the re-issue), The Patience of a Saint is the only other song with Pet Shop Boys involvement, and this one is a proper Neil and Bernard duet. I’m never entirely sure what’s going on with it, but I think they’re representing facets of the same person, one who is pretty sure they’re a bit of a bastard but is checking with their psyche to be sure. Maybe one’s sober and one’s drunk, I don’t know – I’m quite willing to be entirely wrong about the whole thing. I love how the rhythm feels a bit like running on the spot, and how the chorus throws in lots of little bits that quietly repeat, sort of like how I imagine a clockwork brain would sound. Neil and Bernard’s voices work brilliantly together – Neil coming off like a well behaved schoolboy, Bernard like one who’s been kept behind for detention, spitting out every ‘t’ like a threat (“why should I care? / I’d rather watch drying paint”). Unifying them is some of Johnny Marr’s loveliest ever guitar work, which moves things forward while all the electronic bits keep looping round.
The whole thing is gorgeous, although obviously in a completely miserable sort of way – and given the rave-y times we were living in (Oceanic, Rozalla and Utah Saints were all doing very well for themselves thankyou), it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that this wasn’t chosen as a single. We got the slightly more laddish Feel Every Beat instead, but hardly anyone bought it and it only reached no.39. It would take another Neil Tennant collaboration, 1992’s Disappointed (which, thrillingly, contained a faint nod to Mylene Farmer’s Désenchantée) to send Electronic back into the top 10, after which they got progressively less good and notably less popular. I suppose that’s the problem with achieving perfection on your first go.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Keeping it as a duet, I’d like to hear a female version from Sarah Blackwood and Lauren Laverne. It would be a hit in my house.