What follows is likely to be the longest single posting in the series……but that’s as much down to contemporary review being part it.  Thanks in advance for reading.

September 1996, the new album Bilingual is released. There’s a familiarity with a couple of its tracks thanks to them previously being released as singles, but everything else is brand new.  

I think this is the watershed moment in the history of PSB.  Having emerged and enjoyed initial success as a synth-pop duo, they had, with each passing year, sought to expand their horizons and incorporate all sorts of new sounds and influences.  The new album was a quantum leap in that regard.

There had been previous examples of their love for the music of Latin America, but this went to whole new levels in terms of rhythm and language.  It wasn’t univerally welcomed, as can be seen from some lukewarm reviews from bemused critics, while its sales and chart position were both less than previous efforts.  Bilingual was the first PSB album not to go Top 3.


Not only had the album not reached the Top 3, but it very quickly plunged down the charts out of the Top 100.  In time-honoured fashion, the releases of a new single was seen as a way to boost things.  

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Single-Bilingual

The second track on the album was Single, but when it came to issuing it along those line on 11 November 1996, it was called Single-Bilingual.  The reason given was that Everything But The Girl had, just a month previously, released a single called Single, and it was all about avoiding confusion.  Given how long it takes to clear artwork etc. for any release, I’m not convinced this was really the case, and giving such a new title did, of course, work in the name of the latest album.

This one takes the energy and beat of Se a vida é and cranks it up a few notches.   It was one of the highlights of last years’ live show, especially from the way it effortlessly segued into Se a vida é, but it wasn’t well-received at the time of its release, only going at #14 and disappearing altogether after three weeks.  Nor did it do much to alter the fortunes of its parent album.

The usual practice was followed of having  2 x CDs and cassette versions up for sale, but there weren’t quite as many remixes around, possibly as there was a limit on what you could do with Single-Bilingual without completely destroying the song’s very fabric. Instead, the album’s opening track, Discoteca, was given the remix treatments and made available widely on the two CDs.  There was only one completely new song, placed at Track 3 on CD1.

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – The Calm Before The Storm

This is a lovely and understated number, lasting less than three minutes.  It seems it was recorded, almost as live, in the studio and on the face of it seems to be from the perspective of someone who is anticipating a sad or indeed update. I read somewhere that the lyric was written by Neil shortly after Bilingual had been readied for release in the expectancy that it would be something of a flop in comparison to previous albums, but I’m not sure if that’s a truth or urban predict about Pet Shop Boys was they were unpredictable, as evidenced by the next single.


The fourth song to be lifted as a single from Bilingual was a really odd one. Released on 17 March 1997,  A Red Letter Day was quite different from the album version, with a lot of the noise and clutter removed, as well as it being substantially remixed.

As with Go West from a few years back, there’s a reliance on the involvement of a choir, but this time it’s the Choral Academy of Moscow and only in the opening few seconds.   It very quickly settles into the sort of tune that had given so much success to PSB over the years, which maybe was a signal that the more experimental nature of recent singles was coming  to an end.

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – A Red Letter Day

It sort of worked in that the single went Top 10 but only for one week, while the sales of the parent album weren’t impacted at all.  It was almost as if the new ‘product’ was only of interest to the fanbase and not the wider public.

Again, there were 2 x CDs and a cassette, although a close look at the sticker on CD1 (as illustrated above) reads ‘To complete set – also available REMIX CD -includes over 35 minutes of remixes by Motiv 8, Trouser Enthusiasts and Basement Jaxx.  Plus 12″ red vinyl’

CD2 was the remix CD, while CD1 had two new songs.

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On
mp3: Pet Shop Boys –  Delusions of Grandeur

The former is what most folk would call a PSB classic.  More than six minutes in length, complete with prominent keyboards, house-beat and synthetic horns and strings thrown into the mix.   It’s certainly one that it could be argued was wasted as a b-side… even has that cheeky, irrelevant sounding repetitive chorus that sounds tailor-made for radio.  OK, for a single, it would likely have needed edited down, but as we’ve seen from past hits, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

The latter opens up with notes that remind me of ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ by The Smiths.  But after ten seconds, the synthetic horns kick in……..and it goes to the most unexpected of places.   It’s one of those frantic, almost million-miles-an-hour tunes that are guaranteed to work up an immediate sweat in the clubs, set to a lyric in which Neil Tennant seems to be fantasising that he is becoming the new Pope……

It is bonkers and it is absolutely brilliant.  It also means that CD1 of Red Letter Day is one of my favourite PSB releases of them all.


In June 1997, PSB again do something out of the ordinary.  It’s not an event I can remember, but then again, I don’t always pay attention when it’s not centred around Glasgow.

Here’s a review as written by Anthony Thornton for The Independent newspaper on 8 June:-

Try walking into a record company to sell them the idea of two average-looking blokes on stage wearing shapeless Communist-style clothes, with the baseball- hatted one standing motionless behind an ancient keyboard and the balding one singing in a monotone, and you’ll discover at first hand how efficient their security staff are.

The Pet Shop Boys have somehow avoided forceful ejection from pop heaven for 12 years now. Until 21 June the pop ironists are nestled in the Savoy Theatre, London, playing a series of concerts entitled “Somewhere”. They are the first band to play a residency at a West End theatre, but it’s hardly surprising because they have always been more at home with Coward and Wilde than Hendrix and Clapton and their songs have always sounded like they belong in an unwritten musical.

Ironically (what else could it be?) the theatrical setting sees them at their least theatrical. The atmosphere is far more intimate than previous shows; the absence of huge choreographed antics and massive costume changes probably makes this the nearest thing the Pet Shop Boys will get to an unplugged concert.

Initially they play lots of B-sides, as if a serious setting requires serious work from the audience. Then, just as everyone’s gearing themselves up for a dance as they play “Go West”, they tip straight into the interval. The interval? We wanted to dance. This theatre thing must have gone to the Boys head.

After the interval normal service is resumed. They play “It’s a Sin” mixed up in a disco cocktail with “I Will Survive”. Neil Tennant tells us it’s all right to dance. So we jive in our seats. And we notice Chris Lowe has slipped a bit of drum ‘n’ bass into the mid section. Albeit quietly, Sylvia Mason James belts out the “I will survive” and Neil’s monotone duets with her powerful wail. A mistake he probably won’t make again.

Their forthcoming single, “Somewhere”, a cover of the West Side Story song, is all disco beats, orchestral strings and epic arrangements which manage to sound even bigger than the epic disco of “Go West”.

Despite all this faceless anti-pop star treatment and bright arrangements, Neil is equally capable of singing from his heart: for every meaningless “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” there’s the tragedy and Wildean wit of “Whatever fatal points they scored, I have never been ignored”.

This tenderness reaches its peak during the encore, when Neil appears with an unwieldy acoustic guitar. He gently strums his way through a tender version of “Rent”. It works so perfectly, you wonder why they haven’t done it before.

It’s the contradictions: disposable beats and intimate clever lyrics that make the Pet Shop Boys appealing. Their self-conscious anti-rock stance is an antidote to whoever happens to be mistreating an electric guitar elsewhere in the charts. And thankfully, Chris standing behind the same Roland synthesizer pretending to produce all these sounds live is still the funniest running gag in showbiz.

The forthcoming single referenced in the above review was released on 23 June, immediately at the end of the residency.

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Somewhere

West Side Story music set to a disco and club beat…….it might have reached #9 in the singles chart, but it doesn’t do much for me.  But it sounds as if the duo had great fun putting it all together.

The usual 2 x CDs and cassette singles were on offer.  Unlike most of the previous times with the CD singles, both would need to be purchased to pick up what woule previously have been refered to as b-sides.


mp3: Pet Shop Boys – The View From Your Balcony

The sort of slow-paced and reflective number of which PSB were increasingly becoming fond of recording….and I don’t mean that as any criticism.  This one has a very straight-forward and unambigious lyric that has clearly been inspired by Neil looking out over London from a high-rise flat, in a location that was once edgy but is part of the increasing gentrification of the city.


mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Disco Potential

There’s a lot of noise on this one.  It’s from 1997.  That was the same year that U2 had a #1 hit with Discotheque, with which they had been accused by some of jumping on the dance bandwagon as a way to try and stay relevant.  I’m wondering if this is Neil and Chris having a bit of gentle fun at the expense of Bono et al?  It’s certainly not one of their most essential b-sides……

The next two years proved to quiet in terms of new material.  It’ll be 1999 before you know it.


One thought on “PET SHOP BOYS SINGLES (Part Fourteen)

  1. This was the last PSBs album I bought on release and didn’t get any of the singles so these B- sides are all new to me. Quite a mixed bag. The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On is superb.

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