Actually is the Pet Shop Boys second album, released in 1987. Usually in music reviews I often hear the term “sophomore slump”, a term that describes how an artist can have successful debut album campaign that generates hype but when the second album comes along, for various reasons the album doesn’t match the predecessor’s success. This definitely wasn’t the case with Actually though, as it has become their third best selling album overall, but has now earned its place along with the likes of The Human League – Dare as an essential album in synthpop music. The era has now been called the bands “imperial phase”, a term which Petheads have also coined, to describe the success experienced by the band.
In terms of sound, the album is fairly similar to their debut album Please, but it sounds more polished. Its the only time in their whole back catalogue were I feel that two back to back albums have a similar sort of sound. After Actually they change their sound very much so with Introspective, then with Behaviour and so forth. It also definitely sees the band growing as musicians, they’re slightly more adventurous on Actually and Neil Tennant’s lyrics are going from strength to strength. The final track on Actually, the majestic Kings Cross, still is one of the bands finest moments from a lyrical point of view, and that track along with Loves Come Quickly from Please, are probably the first two tracks that show off how good Neil’s lyrics are. Having said that, the album does contain one of my least favourite Pet Shop Boys lyrics, the track Hit Music. The song’s lyrics are totally fine, until I read that they’re supposed to be about AIDS, which still baffles me to this day.
Its by far my favourite of their trio of 80’s studio albums, and I think one of the reasons has to be the singles that were released from the album. Its very rarely that I say this (I’m struggling to think of any other album to be honest), but I think they got the single choices for this album spot on. The public seemed to agree too, half of the singles from Actually (Its a Sin and Heart) reached number one, and Always On My Mind also reached number one during the era, despite it not being released on Actually itself (Which fans were furious about, such was the popularity of their cover). Actually was therefore rereleased with a copy of the single. Since Actually, the duo have never had another number one single in the UK, but its interesting to note that their only number one UK album was actually Very, released in 1993.
Despite the singles being very popular, its worth noting that Heart and Rent didn’t appear on the album in the same versions that were released as singles. Heart in particular, which was a little bit slower on the album and not just as disco sounding. Personally, I prefer the album mix of Heart and don’t really have a strong preference in which version of Rent I like better. I like both mixes.
The album was originally going to be titled Jealousy, with the track of the same name included on the album. For reasons that haven’t been stated by the group themselves, Jealousy was dropped from the tracklisting and the name of the album thus changed.
Originally, this used to be my favourite album along with Very but I would be lying if I said if my love for the album has decreased a little. When I originally got into Pet Shop Boys I overplayed the four singles of the album to absolute death, and It Couldn’t Happen Here and I Want to Wake Up have just never grown on me. Although it is worth noting that the album only has 10 tracks, so weaker tracks do stick out for me more, plus I tend to find I review my favourite artists much tougher than I would review others. 8/10 tracks are winners for me so it is still very, very good. Truth be told, It Couldn’t Happen Here is a really well made song, but I’ve never fully got into it. That’s all.
I know the penultimate paragraph was a bit more negative but this is still a brilliant album that I do often neglect. Whilst they don’t hit their musical zenith for me until Behaviour, this is still one of their best albums!
- King’s Cross
- One More Chance