The culmination of a couple of years of getting their feet off the ground, Pet Shop Boys‘ debut album Please appeared this week thirty years ago. That is definitely cause for a celebration.
It opens with the curiously brilliant Two divided by zero, on which a sampled calculation error repeats itself throughout a hauntingly beautiful song about running away from home. In many ways it’s a very obvious way to open the album, and yet it always seems to come as a bit of a shock when you hear the drum intro and suddenly remember that it doesn’t start with West End girls.
That comes next, and is undeniably brilliant. Slightly longer and more spacious in its album form, it really sounds so good, so iconic. There aren’t many songs as good as this in existence – London’s underbelly is captured as dark and seedy, but ultimately beautiful and invigorating too.
When it was re-recorded in 1985 with Stephen Hague, West End girls shed its sillier side, and became much more atmospheric, and so it is fitting that Hague appears on the whole album. On Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money) though, he actually removed its darker side, turning it into a simpler pop song, which does it a lot of favours too. Somehow he seemed to instinctively know the right treatment for every song, and removing the “all the love that we had” coda was one of his better moves.
It would be difficult to argue that Love comes quickly is better, but it’s every bit as good. A disappointing chart hit, on the album it sounds so full of mournful energy that it’s difficult to ignore. This is not so true for Suburbia though – on this album, this is the one time that Hague let himself down a little, as the later single version proves. It’s still a good song in its album form, although it still suffers slightly from the overpowering samples that plagues all the versions, and the punchy bassline doesn’t quite seem right for the song.
The oddest moment on the whole album, which never actually appeared on the credits of the vinyl and cassette versions, is the thirty second reprise of Opportunities which opens Side B, before leading into the glorious Tonight is forever. It may not be single material, but it’s extremely good album fare, and sees Neil Tennant on particularly good vocal form.
Violence, famously reinvented at The Haçienda several years later, could so easily be vacuous and silly, but it isn’t – it’s haunting and beautiful. Its neighbour I want a lover fits perfectly too – if nothing else, this would be an exquisitely structured album, but that’s far from all that you can say for it.
Later Tonight is far from subtle, instead a strong and powerful statement full of emotional piano and pads. Perhaps inevitably, it fits perfectly, leading into the appropriately hoarse and euphoric Why don’t we live together?
For a debut album, Pet Shop Boys truly excelled themselves with Please, and the follow-up Actually, far from a difficult second album, managed to be better still. There are plenty of indications of longevity here, but it would have been difficult to predict just how important an album it might turn out to be.
At the time of writing, the definitive version of Please is the 2001 double CD reissue, which is only available second hand now. The single CD version is still worth having.