Decades after breakthrough debut, queer icons stick to now-tired formula
Pet Shop Boys
Probably no musical act has successfully cultivated both gay and straight fan bases better than Pet Shop Boys. Following in the footsteps of Jimmy Sommerville and Andy Bell who beat the Pet Shop Boys out of the closet but only ever saw a fraction of their mega-popularity the PSB disco duo proved a powerful antidote to the camp stereotype of what queer music should sound like.
Crafting intelligent love songs laced with ironic wit, band members Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe helped humanize the queer romanticism that was featured on MTV throughout the ’80s and ’90s. As musicians, and later producers and re-mixers, Tennant and Lowe deployed signature complex melodies anchored by subdued rhythms that were unmistakable.
But on the Boys’ ninth studio album, “Fundamental,” there’s very little that will surprise you. Unfortunately, their near-perfect recipe is wearing thin.
Pet Shop Boys have never made a truly horrible album. And “Fundamental” is not their first. As usual, Tennant’s lyrics are evocative and clear-eyed. There’s no disputing the urbane sentimentality of songs like “Casanova in Hell” or “Numb.” Even dance-oriented numbers like “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” and the album’s second single, “Minimal,” possess an impressive literary streak that’s tough to downplay. As always, Tennant’s ironic touch is in full gear, particularly on the deliciously subtle “I’m With Stupid,” in which the relationship between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Dubya is portrayed as an abusive partnership.
In spite of these strong elements, there’s something anachronistic about “Fundamental.” It’s been charming to watch Tennant and Lowe quietly resist change as musical fads, but it’s been 20 years since the halcyon era of “West End Girls”, and surely something has to give.
Pet Shop Boys’ sound peaked in the early ’90s with the release of “Very.” The remaining years have a slow slide into irrelevancy. Like an elderly gentleman who hangs out at the disco way too late, “Fundamental” feels out of place in 2006. The Pet Shop Boys still possess tremendous talent they just need to update their sound if they expect anyone to listen.
It’s been a hell of a ride up the charts for Canadian pop-tart Nelly Furtado. But you can’t help but wonder: Just how did this young singer arrive at this level of success? Furtado’s willingness to take on a variety of styles has made her marketable. But is that enough for Grammys and such an elevated level of stardom?
On her third record, “Loose,” Nelly genre-hops once again, tackling R&B and hip-hop with the help of super-producer Timbaland. With all this moaning set to slithery beats, the record is sure to be a big hit. But if this is what passes for good pop, then the bar is set very low.
Ah, Texas where even the choirs are bigger.
Boasting a roll of more than 120 members, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas are integral to Big D’s cultural scene. Proud members of GALA Choruses, an international association of GLBT vocal ensembles, the group regularly raises money for AIDS and breast cancer charities. Regular collaborators with Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus also shares with the Chorale the honor of being nominated for a Gay and Lesbian American Music Award.
Now in their 17th season, The Women’s Chorus has so far featured evenings of Holiday and Broadway music. For their “Seasonal Blend” concert, under the direction of Melinda Imthurn, the women promise a mix of year-round favorites. Saturday’s gig closes out the 2006 season.
Caruth Auditorium, 6101 Bishop Blvd. on the campus of Southern Methodist University. June 24 at 8 p.m. $15-$25. 214-520-7828.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 23, 2006.