Behaviour- Pet Shop Boys (Parlophone 1990)
UK Chart Position – 2
US Chart Position –45
With the release of “Behaviour” in late October 1990 the Pet Shop Boys found themselves with a healthy dose of critical approval. Contemporary reviewers were keen to point out a move away from the club-dance of “Introspective” to a more subtle use of wider pop music references and high quality lyric writing. Despite its early 1990’s issue it was still considered relevant enough to appear on a number of Best Albums of the Decade list at the turn of the century and is featured in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die publication. Commercially it became the third PSB album in a row to peak at number 2 in the album charts although it disappeared off the sales charts in a fraction of the time of the previous two (14 weeks). Its US Top 50 placing pales against the number 7 platinum release of their debut.
By this time they had proved themselves as a viable live act and an account of their tour in Japan and the UK had been documented by writer Chris Heath and published earlier in 1990 as “Pet Shop Boys, Literally” which is one of the greatest books about British pop music of all time and which features as one of my 100 Essential Books. The album’s lack of chart longevity compared to previous releases rankled with the duo who felt it to be one of their best releases. Neil Tennant has claimed that the extended 12” mixes of tracks on “Introspective” had lost them some of the fans who would have bought “Behaviour” if it had been the follow-up album to “Actually”. I personally have always had a bigger soft spot for “Introspective”, but this release was their third essential recording in a row- a feat I think unprecedented on my 100 CD’s list up to this point.
The album is produced by the boys alongside Munch’s Harold Faltermeyer, a man well known on the Disco scene since the mid 70’s when he was involved with arrangements and productions alongside Giorgio Moroder for artists such as Donna Summer. From the early 80s he had become involved in movie soundtracks, giving him his own UK/US Top 3 single in 1985 with “Axel F” from the big selling “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack. Given the producer it is a little surprising that for probably the first time on a Pet Shop Boys album the biggest and best tracks are not the out and out dance tracks. Maybe the experience of working with Broadway Legend Liza Minelli the previous year on tracks such as the slowed down “Rent” inspired a more theatrical less frenetic feel.
The album kicks off with the dance-orientated “Being Boring” which has a lengthy introduction with what sounds like one of those tubes children used to whirl around to make a sound. “Being Boring” was something the PSB were unfairly accused of in the music press and this track might have fuelled that. As the second single off the album it became their least successful single in their five years of hits when it stalled at number 20 in the UK. It’s actually really a cleverly written song using that of looking back to those “bright young things” moments of our youth. Coming across “a cache of old photos/and invitations to teenage parties” gets the mature Neil recalling the past. The song moves through times from leaving home in the 70s, to the present day when “All the people I was kissing/Some are here and some are missing/ in the 1990s. Neil’s rather deadpan delivery recalling times when “we were never being boring” suggests there’s a touch of ennui in the present with some significant other not being present or having become less significant. Neil has said it is a song about a friend who moved to London with him when they were teenagers and who died from AIDS. That sense of loss comes across well.
Neil and Chris with the bright young things of the “Being Boring” video
“This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” sounds like it would have been a great track for the Boys to do with Liza Minelli had a second album happened. I would love to hear how she would have dealt with the first line of the verse “Each morning/After Sunblest”. Can’t see her as a sliced white bread girl myself. There’s also “kneeling on the parquet” which would have been fabulous laden with Minelli-type drama. Fitting “Behaviour” into the context of the times there would have been two occurrences that could only have influenced this album – the spread of AIDS and the fall of the Berlin Wall. A threat of a return to tyranny is used here both in a public school setting and with its Russian background voices, the escape from repressive communism. “To Face The Truth” is a tale of unrequited love which brings into sharper focus the sense of melancholy that simmers throughout the album.
“How Can You Expect To Be Seriously” sees the Pet Shop Boys taking New Jack Swing elements and using it to attack the established rock music industry. Slightly heavier guitar riffs seem to indicate the direction the lyrics are meant to apply to. The rock and roll lifestyle has become big business and “you live within the headlines and everyone can see/ you’re supporting every new cause and meeting royalty.” Maintaining credibility amongst all this seems to be the point there and I’ve always felt it was Neil and Chris taking a swipe at bands such as U2, a point further taken on when they combined the group’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” for a cheesily effective medley and got to number 4 in the singles charts in 1991. The fact that it was a double A sided single with this very track from “Behaviour” shows the point the boys wished to make.
This would be the last Pet Shop Boys album that I would buy on vinyl and the closing track on Side 1 “Only The Wind” rounds things off nicely. It’s a calm song which hides an inner turmoil of violent anger. So far, this has been a solidly but not classic Pet Shop Boys album. The second side ups the quality considerably with a couple of tracks that rank with their best.
“My October Symphony” is a gem of a track and one of those which marks the duo’s passage from pop artists to having lasting potential. It’s full of class and sophistication. We’re on political territory here again reflecting the changes in Russian society since the loosening of the repressive regime all filtered through a classy, swirling melody with some lovely string work arranged by Alex Balanescu and played by his Quartet.
From the “So Hard” video
The lead single from the album “So Hard” feels most like it is a natural successor from the “Introspective” and “Actually” albums with its driving intro, wry lyrics and sing-along feel over club beats. We can also hear here the lessons the boys taught Liza Minelli with Losing My Mind. In interviews she was always keen to say that Neil taught her to enunciate the “d” sound in Mind as a “t”, but it sounded like it and here it does sound as if Neil is singing “you make it so heart” which actually brings back memories of their chart-topping “Heart” track, which it also resembles it a little. It’s a song about lack of trust and suspicion which is making a relationship impossible;
“You lock your letters in a box
And hide the key.
I go one better- I’m indebted
To a contact magazine”
Great lyrics here. Released around a month before the album “So Hard” got to number 4 in the UK charts. It became another big international hit reaching number 1 in Finland, number 2 in Italy, Spain and Switzerland and a top 10 hit in, amongst other markets, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Norway and Poland. Their big hit US days were behind them as they were no longer attracting much US radio airplay.
Another great track follows “Nervously” feels like a highlight track from “Pet Shop Boys- the Broadway Musical”. It’s a tale of a sensitive male finding a like-minded soul. Nothing is made explicit but this is perhaps the boldest attempt yet to open the closet door, at a time when being gay was not good for careers in public eye and media hysteria over AIDS was rampant. This gentle, beautiful song feels like perhaps their most radical statement to date. Both this track and “My October Symphony” have been on my I-Pod since I first loaded songs onto it. “The End Of The World” is good PSB electro-pop which saves another great track to round things off- and it’s another ballad.
“Jealousy” was the fourth single taken from the album and reached number 12 in the UK and made the Top 10 in Ireland and Finland. In many ways it is the other side of the coin from the club track “So Hard” where the indiscretions are half-hidden, almost for the other to discover, but here the jealousy of one partner becomes all-consuming in the mantra “Where’ve you been? Who you’ve been? You didn’t phone when you said you would?” Such neurosis flows through the calm-sounding song which then explodes into a brass band ending which is just terrific and feels like a fitting finale as harps swoop. This was apparently the first song that Chris and Neil wrote together and they held back from recording it because they wanted Ennio Morricone to arrange it for release. That didn’t happen and now on the fourth album of their career it appears with Harold Faltermeyer at the helm. It fits in well with all that has gone before and is an ideal closer.
With “Behaviour” the duo had left the club scene behind a little and produced perhaps their most rounded pop album. The fact that it didn’t sell as well as expected caused them to redress the balance a little the next time out. Although I like other Pet Shop Boys albums better there is enough here for me to consider it another one of their essential releases.
Behaviour is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £8.48 and used from £0.45. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $29.98 new and used from $0.38 and as a download for $9.49. In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.