Chris Lowe pet shop boys

Much as Paul McCartney wrote the melodic (if perhaps ingratiating) Beatles songs and John Lennon the abrasive sloganeering ones, there’s a widely held belief among followers of the Pet Shop Boys that you can divide their catalogue into “Neil” albums and “Chris” albums. In this reading the former are the wistful, witty recordings where Neil Tennant explores the nocturnal complications of being forever a stranger in a big city: Nightlife, Release, late-period LA elegy Elysium and of course the mother of all Neil-ism, Behaviour, home to the sublime ‘Being Boring’. “Chris” albums such as Introspective, Very or 2013’s back-to-lasers rebirth Electric, on the other hand, are replete with bangers, dedicated to all things euphoric, all-electro-all-ecstatic tributes to the Chris Lowe watchword “Wahey!”

“It’s not really like that, ” says Chris Lowe, who this afternoon is plonked on a sofa in the Pet Shop Boys’ compact yet discreetly well-appointed studio in creative East London. “We are quite different people. Neil is always on the go, he’s always got something in the diary, whereas I’m content to just cook something simple and watch television.

“But musically we are… I don’t know, we just gel. It’s not as if I only like uptempo music and Neil only likes folk-inspired ballads. There’s never any tension, or me saying, ‘This isn’t banging enough.’ We both like a bit of everything. We’re both as happy to be in Berghain on a Sunday afternoon listening to electronic beats as we are listening to Dusty Springfield tearing her heart out.”

As is the case with the best duos in music and beyond, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (always in that order, like Ant and Dec) are two complementary personalities who combine to create a third: Tennant/Lowe. And sometimes it’s Lowe, with his daft hats and his giant complicated coats and his almost heroic refusal to smile in photographs, who seems like the guardian of the essential Pet Shopness of the Pet Shop Boys. That, and his famous off-the-cuff manifesto from a 1986 US TV interview which PSB quickly transplanted onto ‘Paninaro’, a song from the days when b-sides could become as famous as a-sides: “I don’t like country and western. I don’t like rock music, I don't like rockabilly or rock and roll particularly. I don’t like much really, do I? But what I do like, I love passionately.” His refusal to join in, to play the game, to participate in pop’s fake joviality from 1980s Top Of The Pops to modern talent show, is as much part of PSBs’ enduring appeal as the songs.

Related posts: