Anyone that’s ever used a train buffet will know there’s a thin between frustrating and shit. I’ve been a Pet Shop Boys fan all my life and am familiar with them having as much idea of quality as a food taster without a tongue. Masterpieces like Paninaro (1986) or even Dead Can Dance (2016) languish as b-sides or extra tracks, while puff like Happiness make album (Super) track listings.
The first song of theirs I hated was a rather rudimentary cover version of What Keeps Mankind Alive? in 1993 which to be fair was a rushed cover version for a radio show, but it was the first time I realized they were fallible. These arch pop architects were actually human. Since then I’ve been their most loyal fan. Standing up for the joyous Red Letter Day and rather ironically finding myself blue in the face defending Breathing Space But now this: Give Stupidity a Chance.
Its greatest crime is breaking what PSB is renown for: subtlety. This song is as subtle as clotted cream. Whereas 2006’s Indefinite Leave to Remain used immigration status as a metaphor for love or the other way round, this just points at people with differing political opinions and calls them stupid. Its closest cousin is I’m with Stupid which was an arch look at Tony Blair and Bush, yet could also equally apply to events of your own life. Thanks to Trevor Horn it also sounded larger than a motorway. Give Stupidity a Chance. is simply Tennant thinking he knows best. By all means, hold a political opinion, but don’t voice them over insipidly bland melodies. The discontent at top-down governing, the lack of trust by Federalist government towards national governments to govern is a more complex issue than boiling it down to IQ if you prefer the latter. Besides, regardless of political persuasion, everyone understands the concept of ‘show don’t tell’ and this song just TELLS relentlessly, like an out of work town crier at Speaker’s Corner
Pop used to challenge the establishment, this sounds like the product of an EU pop music focus group that quickly needed something to show after the £120-a-head lunch had overrun. It breaks the cardinal rule, that Tennant and Lowe pretty much wrote: don’t try too hard.
They’ve gone from capturing those blurry night cabs home, the eternal tingling excitement of the West End and inappropriate romantic liaisons, to the suspicion of cheating lovers, to the discovery of the remains of the Russian royal family murdered in 1918 and reminiscing about pop kids. On the evidence of Give Stupidity a Chance they now get really cross at newspaper reports. And you might forgive them for putting the Guardian letters page to music if the tune was good, but it’s utter Eurovision fluff; if you left the door open it would blow away. Musically there’s a good bit near the end, but that’s it.
Pet Shop Boys have held my hand for a long time, so perhaps it’s simply about growing up, and discovering that the parent will not only let you down but has to let you down. I just wish they hadn’t done it with this turgid froth of an excuse to appear intelligent. For once this is substance over depth.
An update is that the 2nd song on the EP Agenda is FAR better. It’s called On Social Media and sounds like a working-party sing-along to mash-up of 1993’s Too Many People with (2009’s) Love etc and might even feature Chris Lowe on vocals which always gains bonus points.
Originally published on Idle blogs of an idle fellow
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