Could there be a more perfect marriage of pop sensibilities than the Pet Shop Boys covering a Village People hit? You wouldn't think so. Yet the version of "Go West" that closes Very is hardly the campy romp casual fans might have expected. In fact, there's something ineffably sad about this remake. Because where Victor Willis' vocal on the original infused its lyrics about a gay promised land with a sense of manifest destiny, Neil Tennant's wan tenor only underscores the fragility of that '70s club-land dream. So instead of visions of San Francisco decadence, what we're left with is a sad nostalgia.
But that's very typical of Very. It isn't simply that there's more to these songs than sly wit and catchy choruses (although there are plenty of both); this time around, the Boys appear to have a few axes to grind. Some are obvious enough, like the spiteful satire of musicpress vipers and record-biz sycophants in "Yesterday, When I Was Mad." Or "The Theater," which describes how the well-dressed crowds on their way to the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber hit blithely ignore the street kids crowding the sidewalks of London's East End ("We're the bums you step over as you leave the theatre," spits Tennant's chorus).
Others, though, require a fair amount of interpretation. Take "Dreaming of the Queen," for example. On the surface, it's about a dream in which Tennant takes tea with Queen Elizabeth and Princess Di and ends up realizing that he's forgotten to put on any clothes. But beneath that surface drollery is a touching elegy to the toll AIDS has taken, leaving us trapped in a world where love has died because "there are no more lovers left alive/No one has surprised."
That's not to say that Very is all seriousness and no fun these are the Pet Shop Boys, after all. But as fun as it is to wade into the tuneful exuberance of pop fare like "One in a Million" or "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing," there are deeper pleasures to be had in the mixed emotions conveyed in "To Speak Is a Sin" and "Can You Forgive Her?" And it's that sort of depth that makes Very worth hearing again and again. (RS 670)
(Posted: Nov 25, 1993)
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