The Pet Shop Boys -- vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe -- navigated the constantly shifting landscape of modern dance-pop with rare grace and intelligence, moving easily from disco to house to techno with their own distinctive image remaining completely intact.
Satiric and irreverent -- yet somehow strangely affecting -- the British duo transcended the seeming disposability of their craft, offering wry and thoughtful cultural commentary communicated by the Morse code of au courant synth washes and drum-machine rhythms. Tennant was born July 10, 1954, in North Shields, England, as a teen pursuing an interest in theater before fronting the little-known band Dust. He later served as an editor at Marvel Comics before earning notoriety as a journalist for Smash Hits magazine. Tennant co-founded Pet Shop Boys in London in August 1981 after first meeting Lowe at an electronics shop; discovering a shared passion for dance music and synthesizers, they immediately decided to start a band. The duo's career first took flight in 1983 when Tennant met producer Bobby "O" Orlando while on a writing assignment. Orlando produced their first single, 1984's "West End Girls"; the song was a minor hit in the U.S. but went nowhere in Britain and its follow-up, "One More Chance," was also unsuccessful. Upon signing to EMI, the Pet Shop Boys issued 1985's biting "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)"; when it too failed to attract attention, the duo's future appeared grim, but they then released an evocative new Stephen Hague production of "West End Girls," which became an international chart-topper. Its massive success propelled the Pet Shop Boys' 1986 debut LP Please into the Top Ten and when "Opportunities" was subsequently reissued, it too became a hit. In 1987, the duo resurfaced with the superb Actually, which launched three more Top Ten smashes: "It's a Sin," a lovely cover of the perennial "Always on My Mind," and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," a duet between Tennant and the great Dusty Springfield. A year later, Pet Shop Boys issued their third studio LP, the eclectic Introspective; the single "Domino Dancing" was their final Top 40 hit in the U.S. The duo next collaborated with a variety of performers, most notably Liza Minnelli, for whom they produced the 1989 LP Results. They also produced material for Springfield, and Tennant joined New Order frontman Bernard Sumner and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr in the group Electronic, scoring a hit with the single "Getting Away With It." The Pet Shop Boys reconvened in 1990 for the muted, downcast Behavior, while 1991 saw the release of their hit medley of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" and Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." It was followed in 1993 by Very, lauded among the duo's finest efforts to date. After a three-year absence, the Pet Shop Boys resurfaced with Bilingual, a fluid expansion into Latin rhythms; Nightlife followed in 1999. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi