Saturday, 22 August 2009

1987 Pet Shop Boys: Always On My Mind

Ah, now then, I well remember reading a news article back in 1987 stating that the Pet Shop Boys were going to be releasing a version of 'Always On My Mind' as a single and thinking 'Oh, I bet I know what that's going to sound like'. And do you know what? I was right. Nothing mystical; as long as you know the song and are familiar with the Pet Shop Boys output then anybody would be able to say the same. It would be the same if an announcement came that a hitherto uncatalogued cache of Van Gogh paintings had been discovered down the side of the bed at his old house; as long as you knew Van Gogh's palette and brushstroke then you'd have a fair idea what they'd look like before you even saw them.

That's not to dismiss this out of hand, I'm just stating a fact. The Pet Shop Boys could tackle just about any song from 'Like A Rolling Stone' to 'Baby One More Time' and I'd have a fair idea as to how it would sound. It's the voice - Neil Tennant's vocals always run the whole gamut of emotions from ironic to detached, and on this he sounds less like the anguished lover who never took the time and more like someone blithely noting that their partner was heading out the door with one eye whilst keeping the other trained on the distraction that caused them to leave in the first place. Almost 'Always On My Mind' in effect.

An original take on a heartbroken ballad of regret to be sure, but it's exactly the take you'd expect from them and it's all too easy to twist this re-interpretation as being some kind of ironic, post modern statement whereas in fact it's just Tennant being Tennant. He could not do otherwise if he tried and so any commentary that imbues this with an elevated intellectualism, however cold, should be taken with a large pinch of salt, especially when the accompanying music is straight up, no surprises Pet Shop Boys.

The electronics blare over a galloping high energy beat of campy Gothic whoops and whirls that threaten to topple the song with the sheer exhilaration of it all, yet it remains anchored to terra firma through Tennant's maudlin vocal. Maudlin can work well at Christmas and 'Always On My Mind' would have appealed to those raw nerves in their heart and an empty party diary over the festive season.

And while it does work well as a reminder that not everybody is out on the lash, it also provides a thumping soundtrack for those who are, and this duality holds good at any time of the year, going some way to explaining the version's enduring appeal. The Pet Shop Boys' version of 'Always On My Mind' is a good and memorable one, but please - take it at face value eh?

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