The first sighting of the Pet Shop Boys in 1996 came on 19 February at the Brit Awards. Not that they had been nominated for anything after a quiet year, but they were on stage performing, more or less as backing group, for David Bowie as he collected the ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’ for his lifetime of work. It was the same day as his new single Hello Spaceboy had been released, itself a Pet Shop Boys remix of a song from the album Outside.
It would be another two months before any of their own new music was available in the shops.
Before was released on 22nd April 1996. Maybe it was the fact that after a more than a decade of being part of the fabric of the UK music scene, during which time they had, in my opinion, hardly put a foot wrong, but I found myself thoroughly underwhelmed by the new single. It was a mid-tempo, soulful sort of tune in which Neil sang in something akin to a falsetto, relying on female backing vocals to guide us through the chorus.
It was available on 2 x CDs, cassette and a limited edition set of 12″ vinyls. Most of the releases, as had increasingly been in the case in recent times, came packed with different mixes of the single, but CD1 did offer two further new songs plus a new mix of an old favourite.
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – The Truck Driver And His Mate
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Hit And Miss
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – In The Night 1995
The single did get to #7, but I didn’t buy it at the time, and so it took me a number of years before discovering the other tracks. ‘Truck Driver..’ is an absolute joy, driven along by a rocky and raucous beat, with a lyric that is packed with innuendo and humour. I incorporated it into one of my monthly mixes a wee while back.
Hit and Miss is another fine song, but again is something of a curveball given there’s a lot of acoustic guitar on it. It’s a mid-tempo and melancholy number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place if it had been released by one or other of the many Britpop bands hanging around the UK music scene at the time.
Maybe it was the fact that the three new songs might have seen long time fans wondering where exactly the ’96 version of PSB were heading that a bit of a comfort blanket was provided on the single with the new Hi-NRG/house instrumental take on the old classic that had originally found its way into our hearts as the b-side to Opportunities in 1985.
One thing you could accurately predict about Pet Shop Boys was they were unpredictable, as evidenced by the next single.
Se a vida é (That’s the way life is) hit the shops on 12 August 1996. Four months had been an unusually long time between singles in advance of a new album, certainly in comparison to previous years. Anyone expecting a retread of the pedestrian nature of Before would have got a bit of a shock
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Se a vida é (That’s the way life is)
The writing credits on this one give mention to three Brazilian musicians and that because its is based on Estrada Da Paixã, a song written by Olodum, an African-Brazilian band who had supported PSB on the Discovery tour in late 1994. Packed with brass, guitar and, above all else, the noise made by 20 female drummers, it was memorable in a way that probably stunned many of the club-going fans of the group. There was probably a hope this was different sounding enough, in the same way that Go West had taken hold of the listening public, to reach #1, but it peaked at #8.
Again, it was available on 2 xCDs, cassette and 12″ vinyls, all packed with remixes. Two additional songs were on CD1:-
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Betrayed
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – How I Learned To Hate Rock’n’Roll
The first is a strange one. I’ve read that it was written originally as a country song, before being given a makeover along the lines of drum’n’bass, with Walking Wounded by Everything But The Girl seemingly being an influence. Maybe so, and while it might have its fans, I think it’s a bit of a mess.
The latter? On the face of it, it seems to be a pointed and direct dig at guitar music which was going through another revival in the mid-90s. But the duo had, on the previous single offered up two b-sides as ‘rock and roll’ as anything they had ever released while Neil was more than happy to be associated with Johnny Marr through his work with Electronic. And then there’s the fact that, just a few months after the release of this song, he would take to the stage and duet with Brett Anderson at a Suede live show, an event that would later be immortalised as a Suede b-side? Irony? From the Pet Shop Boys? Surely not……
A month after Se a vida é (That’s the way life is), the duo’s sixth studio album, Bilingual, was released. And that’s where we will pick up things next time around.
4 thoughts on “PET SHOP BOYS SINGLES (Part Thirteen)”
And there it is! My favourite PSB b-side: The Truck Driver & His Mate. From the humorous, slightly homo-erotic, tongue-in-cheek lyric to the pulsing synth grind that is pushed to the fore in between the verses to the background laughter/chatter at the end, as if the story has been told to a group of people and they were commenting on it. The best flipping b-side that they ever did.
As for Before and Se a Vida – a nice change of direction and not completely an indication of the forthcoming album’s sound. But that comes in the next singles. (by the way, I think the LP is one of their best).
Thank you for this series, JC. I can’t wait for Sunday’s to come round each week, to find out what you think of each of the singles. Love it!
I haven’t heard of any of these before. I listened to a couple (based on JCs positive critique) and found Truck Driver… to be my favourite. All that Conrad says rings true for me and I like the vocal treatment.
Se A Vida E I loved when it came out and love still. For some reason, Before does not exist in my memory until today. Truck Driver is magnificent
So happy to get to the Bilingual era! Absolute fire!!!