Launch.com – 2002
It’s up there with Bob Dylan going electric in the shock stakes. On their new album, Release, the Pet Shop Boys–high priests of the synthesizer, leading purveyors of British electro-dance-pop these past 18 years–have embraced guitars. Not sampled/synthesized guitar sounds, but real, organic, wood-and-string, plucked-by-Neil-Tennant, replucked-by-former-Smiths-axeman-Johnny-Marr guitars. The critics are divided–“crap,” says one; “gorgeous,” says another. The Pet Shop Boys smile at the fuss they’ve caused.
So what’s going on? Is it the male menopause? Tennant, five years older than his sidekick, is, after all, fast approaching 50. (“A good excuse for a party!” exclaims Neil’s PSB partner, Chris Lowe. “I don’t think I’m going to have a big party,” replies Neil. “I knew you wouldn’t!” Chris retorts. They always talk like this, bickering like an old married couple.)
“If you mean mid-life crisis, I had that at 30!” says Tennant. “Funnily enough. we were going to write a song called ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ when we were writing songs for Closer To Heaven, our musical, but I couldn’t think of any words for it. I’ve never found it a problem coming to terms with growing old, because I don’t have a proper job. If I did and I suddenly realized one day that I’m never going to be chairman or Pope–which was my earliest ambition, actually, when I was 9 years old–that might be different. We don’t do stuff in a way of, ‘Oh, we’re trying to be 17 years old,’ but I think Chris and I are fantastically immature and naïf in many ways.”
“I don’t think there is a male menopause. You’ve made it up,” mutters Lowe (although we should point out the fact that he recently bought himself an Eminem doll). The reason Release turned out how it did, Chris explains, is because of where they recorded it–Neil’s “country retreat” in the northeast of England, near where he was born. “We were very much on our own, in a very organic situation, and it all just sort of evolved. We wrote a lot of songs of all different types, but the ones that worked the best and that we were most excited by were the ones that were more guitar-oriented. It fitted the mood of where we were.”
“Normally,” says Neil, “we’ll be recording in a London studio where you’ve got George Michael upstairs, someone making a trendy dance record down the corridor, and you’re sort of aware of those influences. This album we made without any influences.”
“Only unconscious influences that went back to our childhood,” Chris corrects him. Like the Beatles quote in “Home And Dry.” “A lot of people have said ‘I Get Along’ sounds like Oasis,” says Neil–including Johnny Marr, who had literally been working on the new Oasis record before joining his old friends (they first worked together in 1989) to redo Neil’s “too basic” guitar parts.
“If we’d wanted to, we could have turned them all into dance tracks. We just felt there’s so much dance music around nowadays, what was the point? I imagine this might be a record you play when you come back from a club at 4 in the morning,” ponders Tennant.
“I think it’s an album for listening to in the bath,” says Lowe, “when you’re feeling a bit melancholic.” Tennant admits that a lot of the songs came from “me being unhappy,” a love situation “that wasn’t working out. Writing songs about it was actually a good emotional release, which is one of the reasons for the title.”
These days Neil’s “much happier, thank you,” dividing his time between his London and country homes with his dog Kevin, a Lakeland terrier (“who was in the studio for the whole recording”). As for the future, “Our next project is to write another musical. We have a lot of ambitions in the musicals area. Which is why,” Neil declares, “I’m not having a mid-life crisis!”