[Introspective] interview with Neil Tennant

Carlos E Restrepo cer202 at nyu.edu
Fri Jan 2 18:41:29 PST 2004

Copyright 2004 Nationwide News Pty Limited  
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)
January 1, 2004 Thursday

CAMERON ADAMS talks with the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant about the art of pop and the album, Pop Art

Q You've just released a best-of, Pop Art, with your singles split into "pop" and "art". Was it hard to differentiate?

A No, it took five minutes. Our designer had a book called Pop Art on his desk and we thought that was great, that's what we do. It's pop, but it's kind of art as well. Someone suggested we divide the songs between pop and art. I read out the list of songs and everyone said either pop or art. What was funny was that everyone agreed, apart from Can You Forgive Her? We were split down the middle. I put the casting vote for art. 

Q As a pop act, how do you justify those periods where you don't sell that many records?

A We kind of accept things. We had a period of intense success which is quite short: 1987 to 1988, really, where we had three No. 1s in one year. That was amazing, but we survived that. A lot of people have an intense period of success and that's it, really.

Q You used to call that level of huge success an "imperial period" . . .

A Yes. Our imperial period was specifically 1988. The album Introspective was very imperial, we had this idea of doing six 12-inch tracks rather than a conventional album, and it was lavishly orchestrated. You have that moment where you have the secret of pop music, but no one has that for that long, it always goes.

Q There's a Pop Art DVD where you discuss all of your videos. What was doing that like?

A It's quite an experience, looking at the last 18 years of your life. It's interesting to see yourself age. I felt at the end it's all quite an achievement, really. I'm pleased with the songs we've written over the years and I don't feel this is a full stop. It just feels like we can still carry on. We have a lot of tenacity in the Pet Shop Boys and a lot of energy which seems to be completely undimmed. If energy can be undimmed, that is.

Q You're marketed as the most successful pop duo of all time. Is that true?

A We always ask the same question. I'm sure Simon and Garfunkel have sold more records than we have. I think it's based on the number of Top 20 hits in Britain. Maybe Simon and Garfunkel are a folk duo.

Q They're back together . . .

A They're doing one of their grumpy reunion tours, aren't they? They really, really hate each other, apparently. That's one reason the Pet Shop Boys are still together, we actually quite like each other. We're very playful. I don't get the impression there's a lot of playfulness going on with Simon and Garfunkel.

Q What's your take on Madonna and Kylie's pop reinvention?

A If you look at Madonna in 1984, Madonna was selling sex with a kind of undertow of philosophical romance. In 2003 Madonna was ultimately selling sex with an undertow of philosophical romance.

Q She dropped the romance for a while though ...

A She went to sex for a while, but if you listen to her sex album, Erotica, Deeper and Deeper is a very fantasy/romantic dance song. The thing Madonna still does best is celebration of the dance floor: Into the Groove, Deeper and Deeper, Music. She's sold the world on the idea of progression because she's a ruthless pop strategist, which is what the Pet Shop Boys are meant to be, but never have been. One of the problematic things about the Pet Shop Boys is the messages we send out are too complicated.

Q What about Kylie? Why do you think it's all gone a bit wrong?

A With Kylie there's always the urge, understandably, to take it in a slightly more sophisticated direction. For some reason that doesn't work, really. I quite liked her song, Slow, but it hasn't got euphoria. What we want with Kylie and Madonna is sexy euphoria. It must be tough being Kylie and Madonna: you're whatever age you are and you're still selling sex. There's no other option. Sex is very simple to understand.

Q When you released your U2 cover, Where the Streets Have No Name they slagged you, but then they went disco themselves. Discuss.

A We did with U2 what they did with U2, but we did it before they did it . . . if you can find any sense in that statement. We put U2 in a disco context. When we did that cover they were in Rattle and Hum mode. We were really bugged by rock music in the '80s: by the pomposity, by the saving the world thing, which it obviously wasn't doing. But Where the Streets Have No Name is a really good song, but it doesn't have a killer pop hook, which is why we put that bit of Can't Take My Eyes Off You in it.

Q Robbie Williams sang a bit of your song Was It Worth It  in concert in Australia recently.

A Robbie and the Pets go back a long way. We met Take That before they were famous. Robbie always had a thing for the Pet Shop Boys. He once sang the entire Behaviour album to me one night when he was drunk. There's something post-Pet Shop Boys about Robbie Williams.

Q Isn't Axl Rose a Pet Shop Boys fan as well?

A When we played in LA in 1991 Axl Rose came backstage and said 'Why aren't you doing Being Boring?' The next day he sent us flowers and champagne. He told us, 'A lot of guys in rock bands get on the tour bus and listen to Pet Shop Boys because it's such a contrast'. Good old Axl.

Pop Art (EMI) out now.

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