Neil Tennant goes west

Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant on how Derek Jarman inspired their hyper-pop direction

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Taken from the August issue of Dazed & Confused:

In 1993, Pet Shop Boys followed the elegiac Behaviour (1990) and the high-gloss of Bruce Weber’s “Being Boring” video with spiked hats and lurid orange boiler suits for the electropop Very. The duo weren’t wearing their artistic approach to pop lightly as they entered a fruity digital age. Naturally, it was 1993’s iconic dunce hats that the band returned to for their performance at 2012’s London Olympics Closing Ceremony.

Go West sounds almost identical to the Soviet National anthem, which was a complete coincidence. So you had these men singing “Go West” at this time when communism was gone and they were going west politically

“We were very much reacting against the whole Madchester thing – we hated grunge! I mean, we loved Nevermind by Nirvana, but we wanted to do something bright with poppy and cartoony visuals. I got my first computer in 1993, and there were all these arcades, so we wanted to make a soundtrack to all these computer games. We were working with (art director) David Fielding, and his ideas were so totally crazy. He came up with the pointy hats, which were based around the line in “Can You Forgive Her?” about being in school (“Remember when you were more easily led / Behind the cricket pavillion and the bicycle shed”). It was a closet song about having sexual experiences in school and so he thought up the dunce hats. I was reading this book by Anthony Trollope called Can You Forgive Her? and a friend of mine said, “That sounds like a Pet Shop Boys song title!”

So I thought of the line “She's made you some kind of laughing stock / Because you dance to disco and you don't like rock.” We had this idea with Howard Greenhalgh, who directed the video, to make digital cartoons, which was aiming towards Chris’s desire to be in a video without actually being filmed for it. We have so few photographs from that time because everything’s digitally manipulated. We went into Top Of The Pops with our own art director, and that was unprecedented. We had three dancers dressed in silver cricket outfits dancing with Chris, and I was sat on top of a ladder and there was a huge blue egg. When you look back at it, it’s like a miniopera.

“Go West” was a cover version that we’d done in Manchester for Derek Jarman’s last art exhibition in 1992. It became a very big hit in Russia because we discovered that “Go West” sounds almost identical to the Soviet National anthem, which was a complete coincidence. So you had these men singing “Go West” at this time when communism was gone and they were going west politically. We were trying to do pop songs, and I think that we did something hyperpop. In those days, music video channels played videos, so we said, “Having created this artistry, why spoil it?” So we refused to do any promotion around Europe, and we had our best selling album ever, to this day. But it’s not my favourite album by us. I prefer Behaviour."

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