Cheryl Cole giggled and said her dad loved us

TWENTY-FIVE years on from the release of their first single West End Girls, the Pet Shop Boys are as popular as ever.

They are the most successful duo in pop history, with more than 50million records sold worldwide.

In February, they picked up the Outstanding Contribution Award at The Brits, playing a dazzling finale medley of their hits, joined by fans Lady GaGa and Brandon Flowers from The Killers.

Brandon also presented their award with a speech that acknowledged the duo’s musical influence and particularly on him as a teenager.

Singer Neil Tennant says: “I didn’t hear Brandon’s speech until the next day because all I had in my headphones was Lady GaGa warming up. But his speech was gorgeous and I had tears in my eyes.”

Neil and Chris Lowe are in high spirits as we meet at a private members’ club in London. Now 54 and 49 respectively, they’re a double act off the stage as well as on.

Neil — intellectual, chatty and very charming — is the main talker of the two but is often interrupted by Chris’s hilariously dry comments, usually about something Neil has said. Chris is the complete opposite to his stage persona, who hides behind his keyboards, a pair of sunglasses or a fluffy pink wig.

Neil says: “Yes, The Brits went well for us but we’d had a bit of a panic the day before.”

Chris adds: “During the last rehearsal our equipment crashed. If that happened on live television, we would have been in a bit of trouble.”

On Monday, the Pet Shop Boys release their tenth album, Yes, a flamboyant pop record full of high-spirited songs with infectious melodies and choruses. It’s a turnaround from their last album, Fundamental, which painted a musical picture of the world in 2006, covering issues such as ID cards and immigration.

Yes, which covers themes such as love and the celebrity world on tracks Love Etc and Beautiful People, sees former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr play on five tracks (his third appearance on a Pet Shop Boys album).

Like a Greatest Hits album, there is single after single and one Neil and Chris say is bursting with optimism.

Neil says: “It’s just that for me, times at the moment are simultaneously more optimistic and more depressing. It’s not like an Obama thing, either. People have asked if Yes came from Yes We Can and it didn’t. I think everyone just feels that the world’s in a time of change.”

“Yes We Can doesn’t fit it, it’s more Yes We Can’t,” adds Chris. “It’s very much a British way. Can we get the trains running? No, we can’t!”

“That’s so right,” Neil adds. “Can we get rid of the Royal Family? No, we can’t. It sums up how we Brits are — negative and optimistic at the same time.”

For Yes, Neil and Chris teamed up with the hugely-successful pop production team Xenomania led by Brian Higgins. As fans of their work with Girls Aloud, the duo thought they’d benefit from working with a production team rather than one person.

But what can a duo with 25 years of pop-writing experience, 40 hit singles and 22 UK Top Ten hits under their belt learn from anyone, even a team of Xenomania’s standards?

Neil says: “They write a series of choruses, different bits of the same piece of music and then move on to the next piece. Then they sing them all and choose the best bits.

“There’s a lot of enjoyment, a lot of love going into their music — it’s not formulaic or fake. They reinvent their sound and are always bringing in different elements and instruments.

“It was a very interesting experience because we had to leave our egos at the door — but we were happy to do that.”

In their time with Xenomania, Neil and Chris wrote The Loving Kind, the song Girls Aloud turned into a Top Ten hit.

Chris adds: “It was more of a thrill having Girls Aloud singing it on their album than having it on ours.”

Neil and Chris say it is funny to see the new generation of singers excited to meet them. Neil says: “Cheryl Cole was giggling and told us her dad loved us while Alex Turner came up to us and said his mum loved us.”

After the boy band phenomenon and the domination of talent show winners, the Pet Shop Boys say they’re enjoying a climate where pop music is cool again.

Neil says: “The great thing is that pop has become imaginative, even cutting edge. Your X Factor kind of music is ultimately turgid. Good pop music doesn’t really date. Look at Abba. Unfortunately they’ve become a kind of a cliché because of Mamma Mia! but Knowing Me, Knowing You is an amazing record.

“The backing vocals are outstanding and the video is harrowing because their marriages are breaking up.”

The next challenge for the Pet Shop Boys is composing a ballet, based on a Hans Christian Andersen story (they won’t say which), at Sadler’s Wells in London for 2011.

But before they start work on their next project they are looking forward to getting back on the road, including a sold out date at London’s O2.

Neil says: “This is going to be a bit special touring this album as it’s such a heavy-pop record.

“We deliberately front-loaded the pop at the beginning of the record because it’s great when you get an album and put it in your car and it’s just ‘whey hey!’ Johnny Marr sent us an email saying it’s great because the songs just keep on coming.”

And if there was ever a way to describe the Pet Shop Boys over the past 25 years, that would be exactly it, that the songs — and the hits — just keep on coming.

Taken from: The Sun
Interviewer: Jacqui Swift