Pet Shop Boys

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***Please (EMI/America, 1986)
**1/2Disco (EMI/America, 1986)
***Actually (1987; EMI/Manhattan, 1988)
***1/2Introspective (EMI/Manhattan, 1988)
****Behavior (EMI, 1990)
****The Pet Shop Boys Discography: The Complete Singles Collection (EMI, 1991)

When "West End Girls" became a hit in 1986, this London-based pair of disco fanatics already seemed destined for the one-hit wonder bin. Intentionally so, perhaps: the combination of vocalist Neil Tennant's arch, high-nasal delivery and his background as a rock journalist smacked of overly self-conscious manipulation. Suprisingly, Please expands on the wry hookiness of that breakthrough, and the Pet Shop Boys haven't look back since. Each successive album sounds broader and more sure of itself. Actually deepens the droll, subversive tone of the debut on ditties like "Rent," though the dream duet with Dusty Springfield ("What Have I Done to Deserve This") clearly opens new melodic horizens for both Tennant and keyboard-and-tape man Chris Lowe. Introspective is an ambitious sampler of dance-floor trends; Lowe mixes hot Latin hip-hop, high-energy camp and the ominous bass-blur of house, while Tennant screws up his courage and actually sings the politically charged club hit "It's Alright." His cover version isn't half as soulful as the original by Blaze, but it's a satisfying album closer nonetheless.

Behavior leaves the dance floor behind; Lowe fashions a richly synthesized backdrop from swatches of adult-contemporary pop, old film scores and even classical music. Tennant's singing continues to improve, though the newfound breadth of his songwriting is what make Behavior such a keeper. Ruminative cuts like "Being Boring" and "This Must Be the Place" evoke suburban adolescence and its discontents with a fond, unsparing eye: zeroing in on personal revelations, these complex and sophisticated songs also offer insight on universal concerns. The Pet Shop Boys Discography illustrates how the duo have gone from commenting on pop's inherent limitations to stretching its boundaries. -- M.C.