By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
The most liberating thing about Nightlife is how it looks on paper. As with '96's similarly disappointing Bilingual (whose massive drum battalions at least added a veneer of epic scale to the music), they've increased the colors on their palette, doing things you wouldn't normally expect the Pet Shop Boys to do: There's a duet with Kylie Minogue, an acoustic ballad (can you say "acoustic ballad," Pet Shop Boys fans?), and a pretty flourish of Hawaiian guitar that suggests a heretofore untapped Don Ho influence. What they fail to throw into the smorgasbord is any sense of urgency, euphoria ("Closer to Heaven" almost gets there; they should've dropped the ho-hum verses), even dread. Ironically, the Pet Shop Boys have turned into the anonymous disco machine they've long half-joked about becoming.
The two songs I like on Nightlife are the two songs that suggest a nightlifemore specifically, in fact, than anything on CV's Nightlife. "New York City Boy" is the only great dance track on the record, a throwaway that happens to be the secondafter "Go West"Village People tribute they've done (during the bridge you fully expect them to launch right into "Y.M.C.A."), and the first Ramones one. I cringed when I first heard the song's opening lines"When you're a boy, some days are tough/lying on your bed playing punk rock and stuff" (it's the "and stuff" that jarred me more than the "punk rock")until I realized that it was a fan letter from Neil to Dee Dee (whose "53rd and 3rd" was "West End Girls" 10 years earlier on a different street corner). Even better is the schmaltzy nightclub ambience of "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk." Who else but Neil Tennant (except maybe George Jones) could come up with a title like that and proceed to make it such a graceful heartbreaker? It's the sharpest Pet Shop Boys love inversion since "I love you/You pay my rent," and Tennant's vocal is nothing short of miraculous, hitting more vulnerable spots than I thought possible for a singer with such a limited range. I think the Pet Shop Boys them selves should get drunk and say some stupid things before they make another record; they might even want to take a few sips from Cobra Verde's champagne bottle.
Pet Shop Boys
Motel, c/o Autotonic, Box 41246, Memphis, TN 38174. Pet Shop Boys play Hammerstein Ballroom November 12.