Neil in this week’s Time Out New York

The Pet Shop Boy gets back to basics with his new album, Fundamental.

The Pet Shop Boys have achieved something quite odd in dance music. Since their debut single, “West End Girls,” became a No. 1 smash on both sides of the Atlantic in 1986, the duo—Neil Tennant, 52, and Chris Lowe, 47—have gone on to create two decades’ worth of disco-pop classics. They may not have had a Top 40 hit in the U.S. since 1988’s “Domino Dancing,” but their stateside cult has remained a faithful legion and has helped the pair outlast all but a small handful of its synth-pop peers (not to mention countless trends in club culture). The British pair’s recently released ninth album, Fundamental, recalls the cheeky, synthetic bombast of earlier hits such as “It’s a Sin” and “Always on My Mind.” Like all of PSB’s music, it sounds as if it could’ve been recorded 20 years or 20 minutes ago. TONY caught up with the dry and uncharacteristically cheery Mr. Tennant (himself a former music journalist) just days ahead of the Boys’ American tour stop at Radio City Music Hall.

When did you first come to New York?

In 1982 I came to interview Kool and the Gang. I was driven there by Mike Rutherford of Genesis, if you can believe that, and I was scared shitless. We stopped at the Midtown Tunnel to pay the toll, and a car drove past playing “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. I loved those old hip-hop records, and I thought, Oh my God—I’m in New York.

Is Fundamental a return to your ’80s synth-pop heyday?

It sounds more like what people think the Pet Shop Boys are meant to sound like. But I don’t think we’ve ever strayed from synth-pop. That’s the basis of what we do.

Your voice certainly sounds the same as it did 20 years ago.

Actually, I think I’m a better singer than I was then. My voice seemed to get higher as I was getting on, and now it sounds quite young. Elton John said to me, “We can’t all sing like choirboys the way you can, dear.”

So I take it you’re not a big smoker?

No, I gave that up in 1981. I don’t drink spirits, either. I’m not Marianne Faithfull.

Do you get nostalgic when you hear “West End Girls”?

It gives me a feeling in my stomach, a sort of excitement. When “West End Girls” became a hit, there was a feeling that we were actually getting somewhere. Our lives totally changed with that record.

But you once compared having a No. 1 record to “having a cup of tea.”

Oh, not that quote! It’s one of those things you regret saying, really. We’re not so blasé nowadays.

Why’s that?

When I gave that quote, I was probably trying not to sound uncool or something. I didn’t want to make it seem like it was such a big deal.

Tell me about your music collection. Do you have massive aisles of CDs like Elton does?

I do have CDs all over my house, but they’re in piles here and there. I keep sorting through them and tossing them in the bin.

You throw them in the garbage?

The charity shops don’t want ’em anymore. [Laughs] Music has become worthless!

Which ones do you hold on to?

I’ve got all the classics—all the Beatles, all the David Bowie and a surprising amount of Bob Dylan. He was kind of a ’90s thing for me. I’ve also got hundreds of classical CDs. They’re in the living room.

Suddenly I’m picturing you in a silk robe and slippers, reading before bedtime.

If I come home at midnight, I will go in my sitting room and play some music and read. I’ve been reading about Berlin recently. Before that, I read Ian McEwan’s novel The Innocent.

Now that same-sex unions are allowed in Britain, would you say you’re the marrying kind?

[Pauses] Part of me knows there’s good reason for it, but part of me thinks, Why do you want to invent gay divorce? I mean, if two out of three heterosexual couples break up, what’s it gonna be like for gay couples? [Sarcastically] Probably much less. So, no. I’m probably not the marrying type. I’m a confirmed bachelor.

Taken from: Time Out New York
Interviewer: Smith Galtney