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Bobby Orlando’s tracks weren’t exactly trans-Atlantic hits, and he was happy to meet a British writer who was enthusiastic about his music. Orlando agreed to supply the Pet Shop Boys, and so Tennant and Lowe returned to New York shortly thereafter to report some songs with Lowe. One of those songs was “West End Girls,” an impressionistic free-floating account of urban London glamor and squalor. Tennant’s East End boys are the brutish young men of working-class London; his West End women are the monied younger women drawn to those boys. For a few years, the Pet Shop Boys weren’t actually a band; they have been more of a theoretical proposition. Tennant and Lowe would put track ideas to tape, however they weren’t out performing. In 1983, Smash Hits sent Tennant to New York to interview the Police, a bunch whose music he didn’t much like.
But Tennant is also clearly a lover and a connoisseur of pop music — someone who thinks and feels long and exhausting concerning the sounds he’s listening to in the world, who processes those sounds and translates them into one thing else. It’s interesting that every one three of those PSB songs are from the identical album, 1987’s Actually. I wonder whether that album was especially popular in India.
In its final kind, “West End Girls” is a wealthy, layered pop track that also retains a few of its strange, stilted otherness of the original. Neil Tennant doesn’t really rap, however he doesn’t actually sing, either. Instead, he comes off like a narrator, dispassionately describing scenes of ardour, sounding both amused and bemused. It’s received a sense of thriller to it, and the video only enhances that. director Andy Morahan and Smash Hits photographer Eric Watson, Tennant and Lowe wander, blank-faced, through London, never trying stunned or excited. Much of the time, Lowe is half-clear, like a ghost. Tennant has said that he was making an attempt to write down a rap music with an English accent.
“West End Girls,” the Pet Shop Boys’ only Hot one hundred #1, is that approach in motion. The song couldn’t exist without Tennant’s pop-critic background, his love of underground sounds, or his deadpan outsider perspective.
With the song, he and Lowe almost accidentally hit upon a sound that, in opposition to odds, resonated as pop music on a worldwide level. Tennant was uniquely certified to evaluate his own profession and to provide you with pithy ideas to describe it. Before he discovered pop stardom, Tennant was a pop critic, an editor at the UK journal Smash Hits. Unless I’m forgetting something, Tennant is the one critic ever to attain a #1 hit. One of the most magical things concerning the Pet Shop Boys’ entire run is that it’s recognizably music made by a critic. As a vocalist, Tennant has always been aloof and indifferent, as if he’s commenting on the issues he’s depicting in his songs somewhat than living those issues. Being permanently caught inside your personal head is a high quality that many individuals of my profession share.