Following on from the huge commercial success of ‘Actually’, the Pet Shop Boys released Introspective in 1988, a mini-album of extended 12″-type cuts. Like ‘Disco’, which remixed their debut release, it was a clear nod to gay clubland and the musical parlance that had influenced them, which back then was a more daring step than it would seem today. Despite their links to clubland and the emerging sounds of acid house, the Pet Shop Boys were never considered quite as cool as contemporaries like New Order. As unashamed pop devotees they were too intertwined in the cultural mainstream, yet their songs were full of dark foreboding and creeping alienation. ‘It’s a Sin’, their 1987 number 1, provided the perfect juxtaposition; Tennant’s lyrics of adolescent guilt and isolation spoken softly over huge pop fireworks. Another massive hit yielded the delightfully cynical refrain, ‘I love you, you pay my rent’.
Despite its upbeat tempo, Introspective, as the name suggests, did more of the same. Hard to find more of an ode to loneliness than ‘I Want a Dog’ while ‘Domino Dancing’, despite its Latin-pop temperament, has a bewildering sense of sadness at its heart. The album’s highlight, and possibly the greatest moment of the band’s career, came with its opener. ‘Left To My Own Devices’ is joyously overblown; part rock-opera, part orchestral symphony, part dramatic soundtrack, Tennant’s nonchalant deadpan delivery somehow managing to convey one of the most deeply melodic choruses of the 1980s. Despite its melodrama it manages not to be kitsch or comedic – the trap into which so many others have fallen – probably due to Chris Lowe’s keyboards and Trevor Horn’s meticulous production holding everything firmly in place. It feels very much of its time and yet hasn’t aged a bit.