Reaction Weekend

Pop’s last intellectuals the Pet Shop Boys have staying power

Review - Pet Shop Boys at BBC Radio 2’s Live in Hyde Park, London

BY John McKie   /  20 September 2019

If you spend a spare forty minutes on YouTube, you will find an experience belonging to another era, almost another planet. Kenneth Williams is interviewed by Michael Parkinson alongside Sir John Betjeman and Maggie Smith. He references Keats, Shelley, Byron and quotes Voltaire. This all happens in about twenty minutes.

Fast forward to 2019. Who does that anymore? Only one person immediately springs to mind, and he happens to be a pop star. On the Pet Shop Boys’ thirteen studio albums, Neil Tennant’s lyrics reference Pinter (Bilingual), Stravinsky (Very), Richter (Yes), Shostakovitch and the Bolshevik uprising (Behaviour) as well as contemporary issues like the Special Relationship (Fundamental) and Peter Mandelson’s multiple sackings (Release). He also writes love songs. Probably their greatest 21st century song, Love Is A Bourgeois Construct, was inspired by David Lodge’s 1988 Booker-nominated novel, Nice Work. Their breakthrough hit, West End Girls, is so far the only global number one single to namecheck critic and historian Edmund Wilson’s To The Finland Station.


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