Pet Shop Boys interview: ‘we used to pretend we were Marvin Gaye’

Pet Shop Boys

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Synth pop legends Pet Shop Boys are back with eagerly-anticipated new album Electric, and they’ve spilled the beans on some very surprising influences behind it.

In an interview granted to WOW247, singer Neil Tennant, keyboardist Chris Lowe and producer Stuart Price talked through the tracks one by one, explaining how they were inspired by Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie, Michael Gambon – and a novel set in Birmingham.

Pet Shop Boys

Without further ado, here are the highlights of that discussion:

Track 1: ‘Axis’

Chris: “We’d been to an Italian disco night in Berlin, and got back and felt inspired by the music we’d been listening to.”

Neil: “I think it was this track that might have made us decide to do a separate dance album – ‘cause this was never going to go on Elysium.”

Stuart: “I always thought it had this sort of futuristic, mystical “City in the Skies” feel to it, and that’s what I loved about it.  It was sort of like where techno met disco.”

Track 2: ‘Bolshy’

Neil: “In English ‘bolshy’ means ‘awkward’, but it comes from the word Bolshevik – you know, Communist – and so when making the record we put a load of Russian stuff on it.”

Chris: “It’s a cool track this, isn’t it? It sounds very cool to me.”

Neil: “I’m sure we’re gonna get inundated with emails telling us the Russian’s all wrong. It’s got a party-sized helping of handclaps, anyway.”

Track 3: ‘Love is a Bourgeois Concept’

Neil: “I love the way it all comes banging in.”

Stuart: “It’s just in that vein of anthemic Pet Shop Boys music.”

Chris: “Particularly when you get those ‘whoah oh oh oh’s’ thrown in for good measure.”

Neil: “It’s funny singing this live, which we were doing in rehearsals this week.  It’s in a very different vocal range from “It’s a sin” or something.  It’s quite conversational. The lyric was inspired by a novel by David Lodge called Nice Work, in which a university lecturer in English has to shadow, for a project, a guy who runs a factory in Birmingham.  And he falls in love with her, and she tells him that love is a bourgeois construct.”

Chris: “Also it’s got a giddy-up bass-line, which we haven’t had for a while.”

Track 4: Fluorescent

Chris: “Stuart added this really great line which to me sounds like it was inspired by Visage.”

Neil: “It’s a bit New Romantic.”

Stuart: “It reminded me of some sort of things that came out on Trax records from Chicago.  It’s almost like you set yourself free of that traditional intro/verse/bridge/chorus.”

Chris: “Well a lot of great dance music just has good bits, doesn’t it? It doesn’t bother with the rest, it just has good bits followed by good bits and it dispenses with anything boring that’s gonna get in the way.”

Track 5: ‘Inside A Dream’

Chris: “There’s something kind of gothic about this.”

Stuart: “It’s one of those tracks where the music sounds like the title. And it begins and ends with these sort of Deep House sections.”

Neil: “There was originally a different part of the song. Chris and I used to have a song-writing technique where, believe it or not, we used to pretend we were Marvin Gaye.  And Marvin Gaye always, or often, used to sing behind one of his own vocal lines, like improvisation around it. So this started off singing around the original vocal, and then we took the original vocal out.”

Track 6: ‘The Last To Die’

Neil: “This came about doing a Bruce Springsteen song, because Chris’s sister told Chris she’d discovered a really good Springsteen song and she thought he would like it. So we played it in the studio and immediately started doing a version of it.  And what we really liked about it was the fact that there was a guitar riff, which we thought would make a good synth riff, and then we ended up making it a vocal riff.

Chris: “It’s got real emotion.”

Neil: “It’s very anthemic, isn’t it?”

Track 7: ‘Shouting In The Evening’

Neil: “There’s a quote by the British actor Michael Gambon, who was asked to describe what he did for a living, and he said: ‘Shouting in the evening!’  And the lyric is actually really taken from Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the ceiling’… ‘Oh what a feeling/shouting in the evening’. And also what was great about this, what with its unusual structures, as the lyricist I didn’t have to come up really with many more lyrics.”

Stuart: “It’s quite hardcore, this track. It’s the most hardcore of the tracks on the album.  What we want to dance to.”

Track 8: ‘Thursday’

Stuart: “Multiple vocalists on this.”

Neil: “There’s the battle of the choruses. (laughs) ‘Cause I thought of this chorus, in my very creative kitchen at home, playing the demo that we’d worked on. I wrote the first chorus, and then this chorus based on Example’s chorus. For ages we had a Nicky Minaj sample on this track. And then Stuart revealed he was working with Example.”

Stuart: “It’s a slightly unexpected combination, which normally leads to something pretty good.  Sometimes you go with the obvious and you end up not really getting above it. Example was just quite an unusual choice.  But I think he just understood it – it’s just got that more Sugarhill direction.”

Chris: “And of course he came up with a great chorus.”

Track 9: ‘Vocal’

Chris: “It’s nice to end the album on such an optimistic note. You don’t get lyrics like ‘aspirations for a better life are ordained’ on a lot of dance records.”

Neil: “I was thinking of that period of music like ‘Promised Land, which Chris is particularly fond of. I have a mental picture of being on a dance-floor with friends around me, probably from the early nineties.”  

Electric is released this coming Monday, July 15

You can stream the full album now, courtesy of The Guardian website:

What do you think of the new Pet Shop Boys material?

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Mark is the content manager for WOW247 in Leeds. When he isn't waxing lyrical about Ben Wheatley and Caravan Palace, he's landing news, assembling guides and penning features.