Cupid & Psyche ’85‘s Wiki has the following unsupported clause, which I hope is true: “Elton John said that he considered this album to be the best produced electronic album of the 1980s, and that he purchases a copy whenever he sees it in order to share them with other people.” Had Elton included “pop” as the noun modified by the adjective “electronic,” he would’ve been as accurate as a thermometer. I suppose you had to have been in 1985 to register the shock of a Marxist hiring Arif Mardin and a grad student cohort’s worth of samplers to make an album whose chart ambitions were as pronounced as the band’s bangs, but Green Gartside was ready to give good interview, explaining that he was “deconstructing” pop or some such nonsense; it’s the kind of addled thinking that led listeners and critics for many years to assume Pet Shop Boys were being “ironic” on “Opportunities” and “Shopping.” As recently as 2005, Simon Reynolds was still scratching his head in his otherwise magisterial study of post-punk Rip It Up and Start Again.
Nevertheless, C&P ’85 remains a startling record: a moment of polyrhythmic ebullience as light as cappuccino foam. Jody Beth’s excellent thirtieth anniversary piece explains its programming innovations; I want to praise its love of the laryngeal high end and delight in wordplay. Gartside understood how language in pop music worked. To mimic Elvis Costello would mean the introduction of a sensibility often deaf to the tonalities of the voice committed to the loquacity. To mimic Martin Fry meant Gartside’s abjuring his duty: he had a lovely singing voice, therefore why bark like a senir vice president of marketing? (Dressing like one was another matter). “You gotta conscience compassion you got away with the word/You gotta heart full of complacency too” would be a mouthful for anybody, but Gartside’s talent, matched by those anxious self-enveloping beats, is to treat words like bubbles blown from a ring. Calling “The Word ‘Girl'” a deconstruction of love songs sells short the density of the lovers rock arrangement, with synth lines shooting across the bars like comets. To hear the bridge in “Absolute” is to revel in the decade’s most fulsome keyboard melody.
I included a couple songs from 1988’s Provision, with special affection for “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy),” which scans as a devastating depiction of loss or a devastating depiction of the travails of Loverboy in 1988; whichever you choose, Miles Davis was there to blow poignant trumpet. I loved 2006’s White Bread, Black Beer, a slivery collection that looks like a sop to early Pitchfork readers confused by C&P ’85; Green’s melodic sense remained assured. I wish I were confident about my judgment of 1999’s out of time Anomie & Bonhomie, and I wish Gartside released more records. His silence suggests he’s got a heartful of complacency too.
2. Perfect Way
3. Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)
4. The “Sweetest Girl”
5. Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)
6. The Word “Girl”
7. Jacques Derrida
8. The Boom Boom Bap
10. Robin Hood
11. Skank Bloc Bologna
12. Don’t Work That Hard
13. Snow in Summer
14. First Boy in This Town (Lovesick)
15. Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder