This week sees the 25th anniversary of one of the most important and exquisite albums of the early 1990s. If you’re not a fan, you might not even have come across Behaviour – it was the least successful of their early releases. But ask anyone who knows them well, and they will tell you that this is one of Pet Shop Boys‘ finest moments.
It begins with the very soft introduction to Being boring, among many other things a poignant reminder of Christmases long ago. An unlikely festive hit, it struggled its way into the bottom end of the top twenty, and continued to slide around the lower reaches of the chart for the next couple of months.
Over the two minutes or so that it takes for the vocal to turn up, you really know everything you need to about this album. Whereas Pet Shop Boys‘ previous release Introspective (1988) had been a six track collection of extended dance mixes, this time around you would meet a cavalcade of string arrangements, synth pads, and joyous, melancholic lyrics.
Proceedings take a darker turn with This must be the place I waited years to leave, which sees singer Neil Tennant transported back to his school days in a dream. While the rare nine minute extended version has even more atmosphere, even on this shorter version the analogue synth and vocoder lines lend it a particularly mournful tone – Pet Shop Boys travelled to Germany to record much of this album with synth legend Harold Faltermeyer, which gives it a unique sound.
The quietest moment yet comes with To face the truth, which sees Tennant giving an extremely unusual vocal performance while Chris Lowe could almost be playing his pad section live. With its simplicity and understated vocals, it’s an almost unique song in Pet Shop Boys‘ back catalogue.
In a perfect transition, the uptempo How can you expect to be taken seriously? comes next. Much has been written about this song, knowingly contemplating who the subject might be, which we won’t touch on here – let’s just say it’s a satire on fame, fortune, and charity. Ultimately released as a double a-side single with hordes of creative remixes in the extravagantly named Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) / How can you expect to be taken seriously? package, the years that have followed have seen it largely forgotten, and sadly so.
Closing Side A is the lovely piano-driven piece Only the wind, which could only really be improved by being its Nightlife Tour version as found on the Montage DVD (2001), which is worth braving the unwatchable visuals to hear a hugely atmospheric remix. The original Behaviour version is still worthy of your attention, a lovely song which reminds you ever so slightly of the British obsession with the weather.
Side B opens with the haunting My October symphony, apparently the song that inspired November Rain. In spite of the vaguely Soviet sounding introduction and the repeated nods to the October Revolution, the lyrics reveal little directly about its deeper meaning, leaving much to your own interpretation. As it should be. But I’m tempted to wonder whether Tennant is questioning his socialist teenage self, and asking him to reinterpret his feelings about the revolution.
So hard is next, the lead single, with its enormous analogue synth backing. This was the era when digital synthesis was at its height, and Pet Shop Boys were, as always, to be found doing entirely the opposite. Commercially, they may have suffered, but their place in history was assured by this album.
Nervously seems to split listeners, depending on the degree to which they identify with the lyric. It’s probably autobiographical, with Tennant telling us how nervous he was as a teenager, learning about the excitement of the adult world without ever getting very close to it. If you do identify with it, it will no doubt mean a lot to you, but for me it’s always been a little dreary, and by far the least interesting song on here.
After that, you can’t help but see The end of the world as filler, and while it is a little vacuous compared to some of its neighbours, in the broader context of the album, Tennant is telling us about his teenage self learning that relationships come and go.
By the end of Behaviour, we’ve grown into adults, and so it’s time for one of the three songs from Pet Shop Boys‘ original 1983 demo. There, it was called Dead of Night, and was accompanied by two largely awful songs. Here, Jealousy is rounding off an exquisite album in appropriately grand fashion. Disappointingly, the strings on the original album version are from synthesisers, but even so, the middle section drops the listener into the centre of an enormous orchestra, with rippling harps and huge brass instruments.
Although it was released late in 1990, Behaviour really closes the first decade of Pet Shop Boys albums, the singles from which are collected so beautifully on Discography (1991). The era of deep and wistful introspection was over – next would come the computer age, with its bright lights, computer graphics, and Lego CD cases.
If you can still find the double CD version of Behaviour, paired with Further Listening 1990-1991, definitely go with that. If not, the regular version is available here.