The culture pages of the New Statesman this week feature an exclusive interview with synth-pop duo the Pet Shop Boys. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe spoke to Jude Rogers in the wake of their most recent album, Electric, which debuted at number one in the album charts earlier this year.
There is a subtle, political strain to the album’s “upbeat mix of disco, house and pop”, Rogers writes, though the pair have consciously avoided letting their opinions bleed into the music, as Neil Tennant reflects: “We never wanted to preach or anything like that, because politics in pop music is a very tricky thing.”
In 1988 the Pet Shop Boys played a gig to protest Section 28. Now, the band, “which has always supported gay rights, albeit sometimes subtly”, are increasingly concerned by Vladimir Putin and Russia’s new anti-gay “propaganda” laws. Tennant believes the Russian Orthodox Church is behind the legislation:
It’s regained its position in Soviet society and Putin has schmoozed them as a result. He schmoozes everyone, actually, doesn’t he?
Tennant adds that he finds our modern apathy towards political matters worrying. On digital privacy, for example, he says:
The public couldn’t care less about being snooped on and that’s very odd. Imagine a politician saying they were going to open your post before they delivered it to you, photostat it, then deliver it. On the internet, it doesn’t feel like crime because you can’t feel the crime happening. It’s the same way that people think of stealing music, to turn to that hoary old argument.
Chris Lowe, who arrived to the interview wearing a mirrorball hat, finds the modern pop industry frustrating, too:
I’ve realised recently just how ring-fenced pop music is. Pop music wasn’t like that before. It’s now a very closed world.
Tennant agrees the system is “unbelievably conservative and enclosed … radio people actually say to us now, ‘Oh, we won’t ever play your records, because you’re too old.’”
But the pair, who are working on a song cycle about the life of celebrated cryptographer Alan Turing, still retain some influence. They recount how, having done David Cameron a favour by performing at the Olympics winners’ parade on the Mall, they lobbied the Prime Minister by text message to get Turing – who was prosecuted for homosexual acts in the 1950s – pardoned:
Tennant texted David Cameron’s assistant to say so. His message read as follows:
“Thanks for asking us – actually it was really worth doing. And sorry to bug you, but could you pass on to the Prime Minister that in Alan Turing’s centenary year it would be an amazing, inspirational thing to do to pardon him?”
The same week that Electric was released, the government announced that the third reading of the bill pardoning Turing had been tabled for October. Sometimes pop and politics do shimmer together, after all.
Elsewhere in the magazine’s back half, John Gray writes at length about Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), whose Notebooks are being published in English for the first time. Areté assistant editor Claire Lowdon reviews the new Booker-shortlisted novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. “The Lowland is satellite prose,” she writes, “placidly panning from Calcutta in the 1950s to Rhode Island in the early part of this century.” NS arts editor Kate Mossman reflects on the evolution of Elton John, who recently presented his new album, The Diving Board, at London’s Roundhouse, and Amanda Levete, principal of the architectural studio AL_A, discusses the structural changes at the V&A.
The latest issue of the New Statesman is out on Thursday 19 September.