Pride Month: Paul Nolan on the Genius of the Pet Shop Boys

The Hot Press contributing editor on PSB’s phenomenal output and why Neil Tennant is his favourite ever interviewee.

An act who flown the flag for gay pride over the years, the Pet Shop Boys are one of my all-time favourite groups. Oddly, during Brandon Flowers’ introduction to their Lifetime Achievement Award at the Brits in 2009, the story of his introduction to the band mirrored my own: as a boy, he received a cassette copy of their 1991 greatest hits compilation, Discography, as an Xmas gift from his mum.

In my case, I’d asked for it after hearing ‘West End Girls’ on a TV ad for the album. All these years later, I consider it to be one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. A stunning portrait of modern urban life taking inspiration from TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’, it’s a monumental piece of synth-pop brilliance that even alludes to Lenin’s journey back to Moscow for the Russian revolution: “In every city in every nation / From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station”.

Incredibly, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are also responsible for two more of the greatest songs I’ve heard: their sublime Dusty Springfield collaboration, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, and the phenonemal electro stomper, ‘I Want A Dog’, from Introspective (my favourite PSB album).

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many moments of genius that adorn their catalogue: ‘Violence’, ‘Domino Dancing’, ‘Love Comes Quickly’, ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’, ‘Paninaro’, ‘Left To My Own Devices’ and scores more.

Gay themes have permeated their output, from the stunning celebration of hedonistic nightlife, ‘New York City Boy’, to the moving reflection on the Aids crisis contained in ‘Being Boring’.

On a personal note, Neil Tennant is my favourite ever interviewee. A former Smash Hits journalist, he is someone who holds forth on music and culture in hugely compelling fashion, whilst retaining the arch humour that is the hallmark of PSB’s output.

The second night of their two-evening stint at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in 2017 was one of the finest live performances I have seen in Ireland in recent years.

Keep swinging, boys.


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