Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

The Pet Shop Boys encapsulated three of my then nascent preferences: songs sung in English accents (even though in most respects I bowed before the superiority of American culture), synthesisers, and the outsider as a figure that was ahead of his time, rather than a reviled and shunned loser. English vocals, particularly London ones, affected me deeply: The Clash’s ‘Stay Free’ in which Mick Jones sung like I spoke, Madness’ ‘Yesterday’s Men’ which taught me about melancholy and nostalgia before I had experienced either affected me in a different way to the American music I loved, which showcased a utopian Neverland over my lived reality. Synthesisers were part of the tomorrow’s world I was growing up in, their ubiquity a way of showing you were serious about the future (whereas in actual fact they were the sound of the present as it was then), but what put me off Garry Numan (despite ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ being the soundtrack to my looking into lit houses at night and wondering about the lives that inhabited them) was that I was not sufficiently alienated to be that kind of outsider. The Pet Shop Boys saw to it that I did not have to be.

‘Opportunities’ is the story of the decade told by a confidence man selling a bill of hooky goods and promises. My appreciation of it was uncritical and entirely led by a superficial appreciation of the surfaces it presented, which had I stuck with them, might have made my life easier than it would turn out to be. Neil Tennant’s suit and satisfied self-assurance were the symbols and governing ideology of the eighties that I was briefly seduced by, while knowing deep down there was something not right in the song’s message and in Tennant’s knowing delivery. It was a conundrum that was solved not long after, when I learnt about irony and realised it was okay to be carried away with it all, providing you knew the story you were being told wasn’t true.

Selected in other Baker’s Dozens: Serafina Steer
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