They collected the Outstanding Contribution To Music gong at last month’s Brit Awards – that greatest hits medley was quite something, right? – but Pet Shop Boys aren’t ready to pack away their synthesisers just yet. In fact, the grand old dukes of electropop have just recorded an album with Xenomania, the songwriting/production team behind Girls Aloud’s record-breaking run of hits. Intrigued and excited in equal measure, we gave Neil Tennant a call to find out more.
Your new album’s been produced by the Xenomania team. Who approached who?
‘We approached them. We nearly approached them for our last album actually, but then we heard that New Order were working with them and we didn’t want to look like we were copying. For this album we wrote so many poppy, ‘up’ kind of songs that we thought it would be perfect if Xenomania wanted to get involved. We met [Xenomania boss] Brian Higgins back in April last year, we got on very well with him and we just really liked the whole Xenomania setup.’
What’s the Xenomania setup like exactly?
‘Well, they’re based at a large house in Kent – the house that the real Alice In Wonderland lived in. There’s different people working in every single room – two guys in the attic working on rhythm tracks, a guy below who used to do music for The KLF, a guy who comes in three days a fortnight who’s got something to do with Daft Punk. Then there’s Brian downstairs in the sitting room listening to tapes, Pet Shop Boys in the kitchen, Girls Aloud trooping through, ducks wandering in from the garden… It is quite amazing and we felt totally at home there.’
Are you anxious about how the album’s going to be received?
‘I think we’re anxious about how it’s going to sell – people actually buying it is the ultimate reaction. I’m very confident about the quality of the album, but my worry has always been with regard to the pop internet circles. When you say Pet Shop Boys are making a record with Xenomania, it sets up an expectation which can’t possibly be fulfilled. They’re literally expecting the best album ever.’
You’ve described ‘Love etc.’, the lead single, as a ‘post-lifestyle anthem’. What do you mean by that phrase?
‘Well, I think we’ve lived through a long phase where people have tried to acquire a certain lifestyle through shopping and imitating famous people. We wrote ‘Love etc.’ before the economic downturn, but what we were really trying to say is that shopping and fame isn’t what makes people happy. What makes people satisfied is love, friendship, affection and having meaning in their life.’
Have you thought about the second single yet?
‘Yes, I think ‘All Over The World’ will be the second single. There’s a little bit of a ‘Did You See Me Coming?’ theme brewing at the label but that will have to be quashed.’
Is ‘Pandemonium’ a potential single?
‘Funnily enough, it was originally written as a single for Kylie. About two years ago, we were asked in the same month to write songs for Kylie and Madonna. We wrote five songs for Kylie and one of them was ‘Pandemonium’. Consequently the song’s sung from a woman’s point of view and I haven’t changed the lyrics. It’s sung from Kate Moss’s point of view about Pete Doherty, but it’s a bit of a cartoon version obviously.’
What happened with writing songs for Madonna?
‘Madonna’s people called up and asked if we had anything ‘lying around she could work with’, as they put it. Madonna’s people are actually very polite – they phoned back not long after and said, ‘Sorry forget that, she’s decided to go R&B’.’
You also had a hand in writing ‘The Loving Kind’, the last Girls Aloud single. Was it originally meant to be a Pet Shop Boys track?
‘It was written for us originally. Xenomania already had the backing track, I came up with the chorus melody and Chris wrote the verse melody. There’s a bit Girls Aloud don’t sing on their version actually – a really high bit on the verse. I loved the song, but Chris thought it was a bit down for us. He thought it wasn’t anything we hadn’t done before.’
Will you ever record it do you think?
‘Oh definitely. I’ve got a great demo of the song featuring the bit Girls Aloud left out. I keep thinking about leaking it onto the internet but I’m not going to!’
These days you’re often referred to as the ‘elder statesmen of pop’. What do you think of that description?
‘It’s an understandable cliché, isn’t it? It didn’t occur me that we’d been around so long until the Brits thing actually. I find it completely astonishing that it’s been 25 years since ‘West End Girls’ came out. In that respect we’re undeniably the elder statesmen of pop, but then Madonna’s the elder stateswoman and I think George Michael’s an elder statesman too.’
Whose idea was it to involve Brandon Flowers and Lady GaGa in your Brits performance?
‘Oh ours. We asked Brandon because the Killers song ‘Human’ was described everywhere as ‘Pet Shop Boys meets Johnny Cash’ and that seemed like a quite a nice connection. Initially we assumed we’d ask Girls Aloud to join us, but they were confirmed to do their own Brits performance so we needed someone new. Lady GaGa just vaulted into the charts with ‘Just Dance’, so we thought ‘She’s interesting, let’s ask her’.’
What was she like to work with?
‘She was really great to work with. What a good singer she is! She seems very bright and thinks everything through. She came up with her own outfit – the Chinese teapot outfit – and thought up a bit of choreography, making her hand look like the spout of a teapot. It’s a tough acting following Dusty Springfield, but she sounded great. She sounded totally different to Dusty – more American and slightly more raucous.’
Are you pleased with how the Brits performance came off?
‘It cost a lot of money – we had massive rows with our label about the budget and who was going to pay for it. We put more than two months’ work into that performance but it was worth it. I didn’t watch it until the evening after but when I did I felt really quite proud of it actually. I think it’s one of our great moments.’
Taken from: Digital Spy
Interviewer: Nick Levine