Even more than their remarkably fresh and touching new music, which flirts with EDM and high BPMs without ever being too “How are you, dear kids?”, The Pet Shop Boys’ most interesting activity during the last half-decade is the deep dive they’ve made into their own archives. From last year’s 4K remaster of their 1987 feature film It couldn’t happen here, to a plethora of late night TV performances uploaded in high quality to the band official YouTube page, their gigantic, carefully curated multimedia body is a testament to the endless invention and creative energy of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe over nearly four decades. Originally released as a concert film in the 1990s, but now re-released as a live album, Discovery: Live in Rio – 1994 captures the boys’ first trip to Brazil, a stop on a world tour of Singapore, Australia and Latin America – parts of the world the boys had never played before – on the back of the 1993s Very.
The Pet Shop Boys first went international in 1991, with an elaborate, operatic play captured by the concert film. Performance. Their most recent album at this time, the 1990s Behaviour, was in part an elegant elegy for friends, comrades and collaborators lost to AIDS, and although it is often regarded by critics as the duo’s best record, audiences have failed to warm to its colder sensitivity. With Very, the Boys underwent a major makeover, adapting to the more up-tempo DJ culture of the new decade – it was intended as an attempt for renewed commercial success and would become their best-selling release in their home country, but also feels motivated by a desire for outright expression and queer emancipation after a period of deep mourning. As their music itself evolved into more explicit dance music, Discovery shows high quality opera from the Pet Shop Boys’ previous live performances that transforms into a club night that radiates understanding and acceptance as only popular music can.
Performance drew a line between performer and audience, with Tennant and Lowe feeling more like actors in a drama than musicians in a band. But with Discovery, the Boys have established themselves as showmen. Blossoming with the energy of rave culture, the vibe is jovial, but their characteristic theatricality is still omnipresent: the Discovery the concert film is crammed with dancers, local soccer players, chiseled models strutting across the stage in loincloths and boxers, Tennant dressed in full papal attire and literal nipple play. The Pet Shop Boys’ sense of humor might be dry, but their shows are downright wet. The group’s first performances were led by a pioneer of queer cinema Derek jarman, whose Renaissance decadence corresponded perfectly to the often baroque sensibility of the boys. Discovery was one of their latest collaborations, with in-depth video projections directed by Jarman, with Bruce Weber and Howard Greenlagh.
Opening with a brief and melancholy interpretation of “Tonight Is Forever”, before launching into the exuberance of “I wouldn’t normally do this sort of thing”, the Discovery The setlist is mainly a mix of staples – “Domino Dancing”, “Kings Cross” – with songs from Very like the explosive breaking hymn “Can you forgive him?” and the more moderate “To speak is a sin”. Halfway through the show, Neil sits down in the spotlight solo and fears that they’ve never been asked to do an MTV Unplugged, before leading intimate acoustic vocals from “Rent” and “Suburbia”. The eternal pop kids have long been anti-rock, but are not always anti-guitar – the ease with which their songs lend themselves to stylistic reinterpretation is testament to their strength as pieces of writing, regardless of the recorded performance. The party gets deliciously silly with “Absolutely Fabulous,” a charity single produced from chopped samples of the BBC comedy, and “Girls & Boys,” a weird version of the Blur song that Pet Shop Boys also had. remixed into a minor club hit.
Discovery has long been a cult favorite among Pet Shop fans because of the way it reinvents the Pet Shop Boys canon and other well-known pop hits. The duo’s original songs are some of the most indelible in history, but they are also somewhat unique as a major musical act that has made covers a constant and crucial part of their repertoire. Almost as well known as “West End Girls” or “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” are their takes on Elvis Presley, the Village People and U2: not just famous songs, but songs that have almost become some sort of prefabricated folk culture, tunes we hear in the grocery store and all seem to know through sheer exposure. and osmosis. “One in a Million” and “Left to My Own Devices” are perfectly mixed with tracks from contemporary clubs like “Mr. Vain ”and“ Rhythm of the Night ”by Corona – Lowe’s synthesizers are already flirting with Eurodance, but these remixes suddenly elevate wonders into high-quality pieces while turning the Boys’ own songs into dance-free dance tracks. shame. The Pet Shop Boys’ almost prolific propensity for covers of songs by other artists is as much a critical reconsideration as it is a creative act.
Just as their music reflected the fall of the Soviet Union in songs like “My October Symphony,” it also reflected the increasingly globalized dance party of the 90s. Discovery tour of Latin America influenced the style and structure of the 1996s Bilingual, an album with lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Through Discovery, it’s as if the group realized that their desired audience was not necessarily in the Imperial core represented by the American pop charts, but in the Global South, where liberation anthems resonated more.
Maybe the boys’ sense of humor was too intellectual or polished or just plain British for the American public; perhaps it was their sincere engagement with the club’s culture that was often seen as novelty or kitsch by critics and consumers; perhaps it was the open embrace of queerness, especially in a time of AIDS and legal oppression. Probably a cocktail of all three – Pet Shop Boys presents a challenge to heteronormativity and male hegemony, to established industry views on what it means to be a band that makes pop music, and to a culture that is always passing to the next idea, as they make critical connections between new trends in music with older, once populist forms like vaudeville and opera.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have spent decades not only defending pop music from its detractors, but celebrating it – before poptimism, there was Pet Shop Boys. In their covers of other artists and their reinterpretations of their own work, the Boys suggest the potential of pop as a living medium beyond the recorded product, a collection of songs of standards that express universal feelings but are open. to an individual reinterpretation. Although they have often been accused of a certain rigidity or ironic detachment – criticism encouraged by Tennant’s wordy wit and Lowe’s Kraftwerk-like stone face – the Pet Shop Boys’ live work of the 1990s is where they thrive. In their hands, the setlist becomes a collage, preserving a century of pop music history in a jukebox.
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