Dricography: Ranking Introspective

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Drico One
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Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#1 Post by Drico One » Sat 13 Oct 2018, 12:58 am

October 1988. Ben Johnson is more notorious than Duran Duran, AC Milan have gone Dutch, and Pet Shop Boys are slowly going down the dumper with their coolest album yet. The imperial phase has ended with Domino dancing, the achingly poptastic lead single of Introspective, stalling at number 7 only months after two straight chart toppers. When four of your last five singles have gone top two, number 7 is a little disappointing. But Domino dancing was, for this 16-year-old, fabulously vibrant, the sound of a truly great pop act at the full extent of its glory.

So why did it "fail"? Well, I don't think it did. It was a hit. But it was their sixth single in 15 months - and it bravely tore up their sonic template and confirmed they were now unashamedly pop. Previous singles, with the exception of Heart, were edgier, arch affairs operating on different levels, appealing to different demographics. Rent was a glib and flippant love song - but was also about the currency of sex or male prostitution, or whatever you were having yourself. Always on my mind deconstructed Elvis and ripped up Willie Nelson, doing them the utmost respect by reinventing "their" song in the most disrespectful way possible. It's a sin was big, bombastic, and brilliant - but it was also a defiant rejection of oppression, both religious and sexual. Domino dancing, by comparison, was simple pop, just as Heart was. Pet Shop Boys were now, therefore, less edgy, more shiny and sleek, and a purer pop band than, perhaps, some would continue to embrace. They'd gone mainstream. As an established top rank act, now collaborating with legends, their years of expansion were over. They were everywhere. You either loved them now or you didn't and never would. Their imperial borders were in retreat - but their artistic expansion was now in full flight.

This album sealed the deal for me. I'd watched their career with growing interest from the start, but this record put them over the top with two more incredible singles joining the litany of hits produced to date. I loved their attitude: no smiling, no effort, thrilling synthetic orchestrations setting the scene for arch, witty lyrical sentiments. "I love you, you pay my rent." And they weren't f***ing U2. In my teenage world, that made them the most precious thing imaginable: an antidote to a preposterous po-faced musical nationalism where posing under trees in a North American desert was, apparently, a "serious" statement of authenticity. By comparison, collaborating with Dusty Springfield was utter showbiz. I knew which I was more comfortable with and what I found more appealing. That they didn't play live just made me love them more.

At this point, Pet Shop Boys stood against so many of the things I despised. It just happened that their music was also outrageously creative, life-affirming, and profoundly meaningful. They were ambiguous in their presentation while being, to me at least, utterly honest. They spoke of loneliness and isolation, but wrapped these things in hopes and dreams and, most of all, glamour. The mundanities of life were put on a stage where even the most trivial things assumed an exciting sheen. And these feelings were slowly enunciated to a stirring, evocative disco beat. In a rock and roll world that elevated the tacky, celebrated the naff, and eulogised Larry Mullen and friends, Pet Shop Boys were that rare thing: a band who knew that pop music was too important to take seriously, and too serious to be self important. Of course, it also helped that they produced fantastic tracks like these:

10. I want a dog

Introspective is a curio. Most of its tracks were already familiar to fans on release, so any sense of "newness" was tainted. I want a dog is a b-side from 1987, but this atmospheric, evocative version is surely the definitive one, a deep, dark and sinister tale of stark loneliness. Every beat of its rhythm track seems to accentuate the isolation, reinforcing the creeping sense of despair. Highly underrated.

9. Nothing has been proved

This was probably their greatest period of collaboration. Neil's busy lyrics frantically tell the tale but assume a very human pose, recounting events from the perspectives of very flawed, but still sympathetic characters. Again, there's despair here, with a touch of glamour thrown in for good measure.

8. So sorry, I said

I'll never forget seeing this during Performance, where I was struck by the sheer melancholic defeat of it all. This is a really dark night of the soul kind of thing, where the protagonist is clearly deeply unhappy but condemned to remain captured in misery forever - and knows it. I love the alliteration in this ("shed", "shared", "said", "Instead"...), which seems to reinforce the inability to escape. That makes this an interesting song. For once, this is an escape that Neil cannot even imagine, let alone execute. In that sense, this is one of their bleakest moments. I'm noticing a pattern here...

7. I get excited (you get excited too)

This one lives up to its title. It's as thrilling as you hope it might be and finds our two protagonists roaming the streets late at night, which is always a good thing, and something of a motif in their earlier work when you consider tracks like One more chance and You know where you went wrong. To my mind, those streets are always wet, reflecting the faded glamour of neon signs and seedy machinations, and suggesting a triumph of hope over drizzly reality.

Drico.
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joe stalin
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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#2 Post by joe stalin » Sat 13 Oct 2018, 8:19 am

Wow Drico. Well put

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#3 Post by y3potential » Sat 13 Oct 2018, 3:34 pm

Your assiduous analysis of all things PSB's is always a constitutive read. I prognosticate to your further dissection of this brilliant album in their canon.
Do you know the difference between the two genders..?

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#4 Post by York Minster » Sun 14 Oct 2018, 8:35 am

I don't see Domino Dancing nor Heart as pure pop. Lyrically, sure. But Neil's darker vocals over the minor chords with insidious synths muddies the message. Pure pop? Sure they've done it. Try Groovy or Vulnerable. Domino dancing and Heart have so much going on sonically that put them in another realm. I always thought the bridge to Domino dancing was a bit throwaway though. Always thought it said "When you look around your window"
And tryin' to figure out what happened to 'Germaine Propaine'
"He couldn't have fell off that hard" Ain't no way
"What happened to the way you was rappin' when you was scandalous
That Canibus turned into a television evangelist"
Plus he raps with his regular voice [BOOSH! BOOSH!]
[BOOSH! BOOSH!] (What was that?) Pet Shop Boys

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#5 Post by Pod » Sun 14 Oct 2018, 5:04 pm

Agree wholeheartedly about ‘I want a dog’ - vastly underrated.
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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#6 Post by Philby2 » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 3:35 am

I always appreciate your posts, Drico, whether they be essay or throwaway. Thanks for starting this thread.

As much as i love Actually and Behaviour, its always Introspective i come back to for a short(ish), sharp reminder of how brilliant PSB are. The part of me that sometimes wishes they had left a longer time-frame to follow up Actually is always repressed by the realisation that their release of Introspective couldn't have occurred any later than autumn 1988 without consequently being rendered at least 50% less pertinent and influential than it was/ is. Obviously, in isolation, it would still contain 6 superlative songs.

I've never regarded Domino dancing in the same pure pop light as Heart (though i've also never regarded Heart as being as frothy and simplistic as even Neil would have us believe, but i get the point).

When i first heard Domino Dancing i remember being surprised. I thought it sounded like nothing else in the charts at that time and also like nothing else amongst PSB output to date. There was a dance music feel to it that seemed closer to the clubs than their releases up to that point, more contemporary and authentic, rather than a pop act harnessing recent elements of dance music around the conventions of a radio hit. The latin guitars brought a new dimension, much more unexpected than the disco wah-wahs of Heart.

Did anyone really for-see PSB meeting Spanish guitar as part of their master plan to sustain the Imperial Phase?
I just don't regard Domino dancing as a predictable pure pop moment that would obviously lead to eye-rolling amongst the cool brigade, as that important demographics' attentions drifted towards rave, acid and blissed out reappraisals of The whole of the moon.

What i do recall of this time, vividly, is watching the TOTP performance and my older brother (who got me in to PSB) musing, "do you thing they're gay?"...No such thought had ever crossed my mind, but amongst hitherto unprejudiced 13-15 year olds, who'd helped make the culty duo a household chart-topping act, this was suddenly a very real and important consideration. There was now a consciousness of the boys not only as hit-parade striding, radio airwaves dominating pop act with a bit more depth and quality than your average, but as public property, up for discussion and some speculation.

Perhaps i place more emphasis than is credible on the increasing gay-related musings/ concerns as a justification for Domino dancing's comparatively modest chart success, but if not that then i would have to say perhaps it wasn't a mega hit because it was NOT a 'by numbers', predictable pure pop composition exemplifying some sort of PSB comfort-zone.

Whatever the reasonings, and if any of that matters, Domino dancing remains a compelling gem which at the time sustained their up to then impeccable canon of quality singles.

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#7 Post by Patrick Bateman » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 12:42 am

It's pretty funny that the Domino dancing video, for all its homoeroticism, still features the hottest girl from their videos. Got to be confusing for a teenager.

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#8 Post by MikeyC » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 1:45 am

Philby2 wrote:
Mon 15 Oct 2018, 3:35 am


What i do recall of this time, vividly, is watching the TOTP performance and my older brother (who got me in to PSB) musing, "do you thing they're gay?"...No such thought had ever crossed my mind, but amongst hitherto unprejudiced 13-15 year olds, who'd helped make the culty duo a household chart-topping act, this was suddenly a very real and important consideration. There was now a consciousness of the boys not only as hit-parade striding, radio airwaves dominating pop act with a bit more depth and quality than your average, but as public property, up for discussion and some speculation.

Thanks for sharing that! I'm curious how you dealt with/thought of the "are they gay?" question moving forward, especially once Very was released. Did it affect your thinking about gay people in general at the time? Did you think there might be consequences for liking them even if they were gay? Your experience has me thinking and it's good to think about these things. It was such a different era as well in terms of the issue. Thanks for your thoughts!

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#9 Post by York Minster » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 4:28 am

@ Philby. To be fair, and though I agree in general about Domino dancing being not "pure pop" (see my previous comments), they did certainly ape a sound of the time. They had heard songs such as Come Go With Me, Let Me Be The One, and Seasons Change released by Expose in 1987, and nabbed that producer, Louis A. Martinee. Those were fairly brilliantly produced pop songs, so not a bad move. They would be inspired by latin again, obviously. Other songs such as La Isla Bonita by Madonna were also common currency at the time. So in this respect they were behind the curve. But back in the late 80's, PSB took something and made it their own. Similar things had happened before. Always On My Mind, for all it's brilliance, does owe something to the sound of the time, expressed in such tracks as I Think We're Alone Now by Tiffany, released a few months before Always on my mind. Yes, PSB took from the current pop landscape, but it was to their benefit. They had something to meld and make their own. The current pop landscape is antithetical to what PSB represent, and thus they haven't had anything to mold and shape for quite some time now.

@PB I have also noticed this.
And tryin' to figure out what happened to 'Germaine Propaine'
"He couldn't have fell off that hard" Ain't no way
"What happened to the way you was rappin' when you was scandalous
That Canibus turned into a television evangelist"
Plus he raps with his regular voice [BOOSH! BOOSH!]
[BOOSH! BOOSH!] (What was that?) Pet Shop Boys

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#10 Post by Lush » Thu 18 Oct 2018, 9:35 am

Had Trevor Horn not made a complete mess out of It's Alright, Introspective would have been a great candidate for best album ever. As it is, it will only rank second for me.
"Unprofessional? Us? Sir. Might I with due respect remind you that Mister Vandemar and myself burned down the City of Troy? We brought the Black Plague to Flanders. We have assassinated a dozen kings, five popes, half a hundred heroes and two accredited gods. Our last commission before this was the torturing to death of an entire monastery in sixteenth century Tuscany. We are utterly professional." - Mr Croup

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#11 Post by y3potential » Thu 18 Oct 2018, 1:36 pm

Lush wrote:
Thu 18 Oct 2018, 9:35 am
Had Trevor Horn not made a complete mess out of It's Alright, Introspective would have been a great candidate for best album ever. As it is, it will only rank second for me.

I wasn't aware the Trevor had "made a complete mess out of It's Alright" That's news to me..
Do you know the difference between the two genders..?

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#12 Post by PopArt » Thu 18 Oct 2018, 7:14 pm

For years I didn't listen to Introspective. After an initial flurry of excitement when it came out it, it just drifted off my play list sometime around 89/90. I have always absolutely loved the 7" singles but rarely took the album out for a spin. Then this summer on a hot July evening I was at a party that was for various reasons commemorating 1988. I was loosely in charge of the playlist and so I put Introspective on- very loud- from beginning to end. I was absolutely blown away. It is an amazing album that has really stood the test of time. It still sounds fresh and exciting and the songs are given real space to breathe and develop.

I was only 8 when it came lout and so maybe the length of the songs put me off. But listening to it with the attention span of an adult I realised how wrong I have been about Introspective over the years. It's a masterpiece.
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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#13 Post by York Minster » Thu 18 Oct 2018, 7:52 pm

I agree with Lush on It's Alright. Tracks 1 through 4 are essentially perfection. Then you hit Always on my mind. Which, as a single, is still perfection. In album form, it has a lot to offer, but also just takes too long to build. Then It's Alright is a mess. If it had been the 10 inch mix, and Always on my mind had been tweaked a bit, the album could have been perfection.
And tryin' to figure out what happened to 'Germaine Propaine'
"He couldn't have fell off that hard" Ain't no way
"What happened to the way you was rappin' when you was scandalous
That Canibus turned into a television evangelist"
Plus he raps with his regular voice [BOOSH! BOOSH!]
[BOOSH! BOOSH!] (What was that?) Pet Shop Boys

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#14 Post by Pod » Thu 18 Oct 2018, 8:51 pm

What’s wrong with It’s Alright?
Sorry but the version of always on my mind on Introspective is bloody brilliant. In my humble opinion.
Just for the sake of it, make sure you're always frowning. :|
It shows the world that you've got substance and depth.

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Re: Dricography: Ranking Introspective

#15 Post by York Minster » Thu 18 Oct 2018, 9:30 pm

@Pod I just don't like the production. It's too clunky. The vocals don't mesh well over the music. It doesn't flow or have the same sense of purpose as the other tracks.
And tryin' to figure out what happened to 'Germaine Propaine'
"He couldn't have fell off that hard" Ain't no way
"What happened to the way you was rappin' when you was scandalous
That Canibus turned into a television evangelist"
Plus he raps with his regular voice [BOOSH! BOOSH!]
[BOOSH! BOOSH!] (What was that?) Pet Shop Boys

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