I think Pet Shop Boys are one of the greatest singles bands of all time, and I’ve long been drawn to their mix of melancholy and euphoria. Their 1987 chart-topper It’s A Sin remains one of the strangest, most rewarding pop songs ever to reach number one in the UK chart.
It’s also a hell of a record for a confused teenager who’s battling with their identity:
When I look back upon my life
it’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
no matter when or where or who
has one thing in common too
It’s a sin
Oh man, the times I’ve cried to that one.
If you’re tired of overly worthy rock memoirs, Chris Heath’s two books about Pet Shop Boys touring – Literally and Pet Shop Boys Versus America – are wonderful, waspish and hilarious.
Singer Neil Tennant was a huge influence on me – he was a journalist for Smash Hits, my very favourite magazine – and he coined the term “imperial phase” to describe the temporary period in an artist’s career when they can do no wrong and create incredible things.
Depending on who you ask, the Pet Shop Boys’ imperial phase ended when they released Behaviour. But others think that album was their peak. It certainly included one of their very greatest songs.Writing for The Quietus, Fergal Kinney does a deep dive into a dense, divisive album 30 years after its release.
Show me your Beatles, show me your Bowie, and I will show you ‘Being Boring’. A masterpiece, to be sure, but also something more elusive than that. Entering the charts at 36, ‘Being Boring’ eventually climbed to 20, but its legacy wouldn’t be measured in chart success. It became, for many, a song of a lifetime, and for a generation of LGBT people an essential and early monument to a senseless tragedy.
I’ve seen Pet Shop Boys live a few times and Being Boring makes me cry every time. Just writing about it now has choked me up. It’s a beautiful sad song.
The track’s impressive vocabulary (cache, trepidation, haversack) belies a simply structured lyric – a three act drama that begins with Dowell and Tennant’s childhood, takes in their move to London and ends, as Tennant explained to the Guardian, “looking back at what’s happening, and I’m doing what I’m doing, and he’s dead”. Of course, part of the song’s enduring hold is its resonances well beyond gay life. It looks at the biggest of themes – friendship, loss, the passage of time. Anyone who’s life has involved some degree of escape, some degree of self-actualisation can’t fail to be grabbed a little too tightly by lines such as “I never dreamt that I would get to be/ The creature that I always meant to be.”