| Throughout the making of the new Pet Shop Boys album Neil, as usual, kept a diary. Neil and Chris recently went through the diary with Literally and recalled the album’s making. It took place, bit by bit, over two-and-a-half years. For much of that time they were concentrating on their forthcoming musical, though some of those songs were subsequently diverted into their own record. Not all of the songs mentioned below will appear on the finished album: the final track-listing and lyrics to the songs will appear in the next issue of Literally.|
October 5th, 1996.
Neil: That was our first day at Childown. Chris: 1996! And it’s 1999 now! God… Neil: This album goes back a long way, because we started it almost immediately after finishing Bilingual. We had a house called Rocky Lane near Henley which we were renting, and we knew we were going to start working on the musical so we rented a house called Childown. Chris: Somewhere in Surrey. Neil: Buckinghamshire.
Chris: It was Surrey.
Neil: It was Surrey! The nearest town was Working. You’re right. It was a house surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest. We had our studio there. Jonathan Harvey recent said in an interview that working with us was really glamorous – he used to be picked up in a limo… Chris: Chauffeur-driven limo. Neil: And driven down there.
Chris: Met by the housekeeper.
Neil: And then you’d do some work in the afternoon and the next thing you know you’d be watching television getting drunk. Do we dispute the accuracy of this? Not at all.
Neil: We worked on a new song called “Vampires”. This was so long ago there was a new Absolutely Fabulous series starting the same day. That’s a different era.
February 9th, 1997.
Neil: Worked on a plot of the musical. Watched TV and got drunk, probably.
Neil: Worked on a new version of “In The Club Or In The Queue” which is a very old song from our original EMI demo. It was in the first draft of the musical. Chris: It was just gratuitous though, wasn’t it? Neil: In our new professional, ruthless world of musical-writing it’s been dumped.
Neil: A power cut. We sat around all day waiting for the flaming power to be connected and it wasn’t so we all drove back to London in a bad mood. It was really annoying.
Neil: Back to Childown with Jonathan Harvey. Carried on working on “In The Club Or In The Queue”. Oh, great day this. After dinner we got drunk in the studio and Chris wrote music for “Call Me Old-fashioned”.
Chris: And Jonathan started singing. Neil: To this day he’s still on the demo doing backing vocals on that session. Good song, that. And we also wrote what became “For Your Own Good” on the same night.
Neil: Chris was in bed with a hangover. During the day, I went into the studio with Pete Gleadall and put the melody line and the middle bit on “Call Me Old-fashioned”, and also put vocals and melody on “For Your Own Good”. Chris went back to London because he wanted to see Arsenal play Manchester United and after dinner I got up his demo of the song which became “In Denial”.
Neil: Worked in the studio structuring and writing middle bit of “In Denial”. Chris came back and after lunch we did the demo of “Friendly Fire”. I wrote most of the lyrics for it in the studio while we were doing the music. I went to the ear doctor the next day. I wonder why I did that. That’s where I discovered I had perfect hearing, the hearing of an 18-year-old. Which I’m very proud about.
Neil: We went to Childown to work on the musical but we decided we were going to do the Savoy, decided we needed a single, decided to do “Somewhere”, chucked the musical out of the window, and started on “Somewhere”. We did the basic arrangement in one day.
Neil: Carried on working on “Somewhere”.
Neil: We were working on B-sides for “Somewhere” in Metropolis, and we cut “Somewhere”. We recorded “Disco Potential” -we did it so quickly. Oh! We must remember we’ve got that song we haven’t put out yet, Chris’s one called “Nu Sleaze”: ‘You’ve got to get down to get up’. That day we also met Sam Taylor-Wood at the Savoy Theater. Then we went to Frankfurt that night. The next day we did an Internet conference and the computers didn’t work. Nothing happens for ages on the album now because of the Savoy show.
Neil: At Childown we wrote a song which was then called “Am I The Only One?” And the same day we worked on the Elton John duet, “Believe” and “Song For Guy”. That evening we watched Tantrums And flares again.
Neil: We’re actually doing something, everyone. We’re making a brief visit to Childown with Jonathan Harvey. We discussed the musical.
Neil: We drove to the nearest town and bought videos, and we watched Annie and Oiler! After dinner we watched Carousel.
Neil: Working on the musical. After lunch we watched The Sound Of music
Chris: We were analyzing things.
Neil: The use of the songs.
Chris: Annie was not as good as I’d remembered.
Neil: Oliver! was good though. In The Sound Of Music, every song is a song of transformation. The characters are not the same at the end. Chris: Something that we’ve not utilized in our musical.
Neil: [laughs] We’re not good enough. After dinner that day, Jonathan read a synopsis of the plot and we played cassettes of the songs.
Neil: We did “Sail Away” in Sarm West.
Neil: “Sail Away” again. And we did a quick version of “It’s Not Unusual” for the Stonewall Equality Show.
Neil: Still working on “Sail Away”.
Neil: Finished “Sail Away”.
Neil: Childown has now gone.
Chris: That was a good investment, wasn’t it? Neil: We’re now in Pete Gleadall’s studio. That day we wrote and strutted to record the Christmas song for our Christmas card.
Neil: Finished the Christmas song.
Neil: Worked on a new song for the musical, “Night Life”.
Neil: Worked on two new songs for the musical, “Hedonism” and “Something Special”.
April 7th, 1998.
Neil: Went to Pete Gleadall’s studio and put vocals on two demos for the musical, “The Only One” and “In Denial”.
Neil: Vocals on two more songs, “Call Me Old Fashioned” and ‘Night Life”. The Noel Coward thing was happening then – that’s why there hasn’t been a lot of Pet Shop Boys stuff.
Neil: We started the album properly. We’d decided to work with Craig Armstrong, and he came down to London at Westside and we started work on the song “The Only One”. He decided he’d rather work on the songs back in his studio in Glasgow first, taking our demos, with his programmer Richard Norris. We agreed and he went back to Glasgow the next day.
Neil: We stayed on at Westside for the rest of that week. We wrote a new song using a sample from TRex’s “Get It On”. It’s called “Little Black Dress”. I went to dinner and Chris wrote a song with the attractive title “Buggered If I Know”.
Chris: Good title. It could be “Buggered (If I Know)”. Neil: You wanted it to be like Divine, I think. That was your idea, wasn’t it?
Chris: Was it? OK.
Neil: And it starts off with something like Edgar. Chris: Oh, I vaguely remember that.
Neil: We wrote two new songs. One’s called “Before My Time” which was meant to sound like Air. The other song was called “Playing In The Streets”, which would later become the intro of “Boy Strange”, only then we eventually took it off “Boy Strange” so it 5 still flying around. We wrote “Playing In The Streets” because Chris wanted to write something inside to impress a friend of his. And indeed it did impress him.
Chris: It sounds like kraut rock.
Neil: A bit like Bowie, I think.
Chris: It’s not easy doing inside, actually. You basically need to be a band to do it.
Neil: We went to Glasgow to work with Craig. He had been working on “Vampires” and “In Denial”. We played them through and gave him suggestions. We did the same for the next two days, also working on “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk”.
Neil: We began working in Chris Difford’s studio in East Sussex with a programmer called James Sanger and wrote the music for a new song, “I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More”.
Neil: Wrote the music for a song for the musical, “Tall Thin Men
Neil: Wrote music for a song called “What Would I Know?”. It’s the worst song I’ve ever written, but it’s got a good middle bit.
Neil: Worked on a new song – I think it was meant for Robbie Williams because he wanted to write a song with us though it never happened -called “Unbelievable Scenes”.
Neil: Back to Chris Difford’s. Sam Taylor-Wood came down and we worked on “Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)”.
Neil: Finished “Je T’Aime…”, amazingly, and carried on working on “Unbelievable Scenes
Neil: Worked on a new song, “Footsteps”, which was originally the bridge of “Unbelievable Scenes” but it didn’t fit in. May 21st.
Neil: Sam Taylor-Wood came down and did the vocals on “Je T’Aime…”
Neil: Back to Chris Difford’s studio. Worked on “Boy Strange”.
Neil: Finished demo of “Boy Strange”. Put vocals on “Little Black Dress”. Started demo of “Love And War”, which we first demo-ed in Glasgow writing songs for Behavior in 1990.
Neil: Put vocals on “Footsteps”. As you can see, we’re still not really into the full thing of doing the album.
Neil: Pete Gleadall’s studio: wrote new song “Radiophone”. That night we went to Substation and played the instrumental there. Chris: I enjoyed playing that there. It sounded good, I thought.
Neil: Carried on working on “Radiophone”.
Neil: Finished vocals on “Radiophone” and started a new track, “Franglais”.
Chris: Why would we call a track “Franglais”? It doesn’t sound like our kind of title.
Neil: We were probably still trying to rip off Air.
Neil: Chris had been out the night before and wasn’t at the studio the next day. I worked on a new track called “Silver Age”.
Neil: Hello, proper recording. In Swanyard with Roll, working on “Radiophone
September 15th and 16th.
Neil: “Radiophone” with Roll.
Neil: Working on “For Your Own Good”.
Neil: “For Your Own Good”.
Neil: We’d been asked to do a song for the album to go with the film Psycho, so we actually wrote it – the song “Screaming” – from scratch then and there, with Pete Gleadall and Tom Stephen.
Neil: Carried on working on “Screaming”.
Neil: Swanyard with Roll, working on “Boy Strange” doing guitar and vocals.
Neil: “Boy Strange”. In the evening we went to see Depeche Mode at Wembley Arena.
Neil: Watched half of Psycho on video and rewrote “Screaming”. I wrote the lyrics twice and I changed the whole melody because it was too wordy and I didn’t like it.
Neil: I went to Swanyard and recorded a guide vocal for “tall Thin Men” for Richard Niles to do the arrangement to, and then I recorded the vocals for “Screaming”, then Tom and Chris arrived and worked more on “Screaming”.
Neil: Goetz mixed “Screaming” and while he did the mix I wrote new words to the new verse melody. We finished it that day.
Neil: We went to Glasgow to Craig’s studio. Chris: Nothing much for us to do there.
Neil: We worked on “Drunk”. It was one of the most problematical songs to record. Craig kept on trying to make it different to the demo, but eventually one day when Craig was out of the studio – he was worn out with it anyway – Chris and I reprogrammed the original rhythm track. Chris: And he hated it.
Neil: But when it was mixed he suddenly decided he really liked it. To his credit Craig Armstrong was always trying to push us to make it more interesting. This day Ah the guitarist came in – he was in the group Hipsway. At one point I accused Craig, jokingly, of just making a Hipsway album with me singing on it, because there seemed to be so many ex-members of Hipsway involved in the recording process. Anyway, he’s really good. He played bottle neck guitar on this.
Neil: Listened through to the tracks in Glasgow.
Neil: Worked on “Footsteps” and went shopping.
Chris: There’s some fantastic shops for clothes shopping in Glasgow.
Neil: Chris went back to London to go to America to see the Prince Naseem fight. Ah put guitar on “Footsteps”. Craig and I went through all eight tracks he was working on, discussing the orchestrations.
Neil: Chris starts working with David Morales in a little studio in New York.
Chris: He had the idea of doing a Village People type song, which became “New York City Boy”, and we worked on what became “Love Letters”.
Neil: Chris with David Morales again.
Neil: I flew to New York.
Neil: Chris played me the tracks and I wrote the words to “New York City Boy” – well, it turned out all I’d written was the bridge, because we changed it later – and we went the studio.
Neil: Went to Gemstone studios with David Morales. I put a guide vocal on “New York City Boy” and the vocal melody on “Love Letters”.
Neil: Went to Quad studios. The reason why the lyrics to “New York City Boy” go “where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway”, it’s because that’s where Quad studios is. The corner of Times Square.
Chris: It’s also where Tupac got shot in the balls. Neil: That day we work on “Don’t Know What You Want” and “New York City Boy”.
Neil: I did the lead vocals on “Don’t Know What You Want” and a vocal arranger called Danny came in to discuss the backing vocals.
Neil: I put the lead vocals on “Night Life” and then Chris and I went to see the Mark Rothko retrospective at the Whitney…
Chris: Bloody good.
Neil: . . .Because we’re very arty, as you know. Then we went back to Quad and the backing singers did the vocals on “New York City Boy” and “Night Life”.
Neil: I put a guide vocal on “Love Letters” and went to see Gods And Monsters.
Neil: I put more vocals on “New York City Boy”.
Neil: Back at Swanyard in London with Rollo, working on “For Your Own Good”.
Neil: Finished “For Your Own Good” and worked on “Boy Strange”.
Neil: Finished the mix of “Boy Strange”.
Neil: Worked on “Radiophone”. This was also one of the problematic tracks – Chris and I did it deliberately as an Fighters thing, and Rollo didn’t want it to be Eighties and we never thought it quite got there. The final version was the third version. It took a lot of work, I think, because it’s not much of a song really. We wrote it as a track rather than as a song, which is quite unusual for us.
Neil: Went to Air Lyndhurst studios. The first day of recording strings, so Craig was there. Recorded strings for “In Denial”, “Closer To Heaven” and “The Only One”.
Neil: Orchestra played on “Drunk”, “Friendly Fire”, “For All Of Us” and “Closer To Heaven”. Then a choir sung on “Footsteps” and “In Denial”.
Neil: I did the vocals on “Vampires” and “The Only One” at Sarm West.
Neil: Sarm West with Craig, but I went home because I had a cold.
Neil: Backing vocals on various tracks, “Footsteps” in particular, with Tessa Niles, Jay Henry and Carol Kenyon.
Neil: With Craig at Sarm West.
Neil: Sarm West. Then it’s Christmas.
January 11th, 1999.
Neil: Year three. Back to Sarm. Did some work on “Vampires” and I sang “Friendly Fire”.
Neil: In Sarm.
Neil: Craig wasn’t around – we did some reprogramming on “Drunk”.
Chris: The studio was really cold.
Neil: Tom Stephen came in – we’d decided to do a dance version of “Drunk”.
Neil: Worked on “For All Of Us”.
January 15th. Neil: Carried on on “Drunk” and “For All Of Us”.
Neil: Chris and I went to Olympic Studios where Mike “Spike” Stent was mixing “Vampires”, then we went back to Sarm and I did the vocals for “In Denial”.
Neil: At Sarm and Olympic; at Olympic we heard the final mix of “The Only One”.
Neil: Craig came in with the finished mix of “Friendly Fire” and we worked on “For All Of Us”. That was a track we were always messing around with, and in the end we went back to what the demo was like, because there was nothing wrong with it really.
January 22nd. Neil: Sarm.
Neil: Sarm, working on “In Denial”. Kylie Minogue came in and we went for dinner to discuss whether she wanted to do a duet.
Chris: It was a good laugh actually.
Neil: She just said she’d like to do it. She was very practical.
Chris: She’s very sexy.
Neil: And also a nice person.
Neil: Craig came down and we worked on “In Denial” and “For All Of Us” yet again.
January 27th. Neil: I had a cold for the rest of the week.
Neil: Sarm. Worked on “Closer To Heaven editing it. There was a whole instrumental section we just chopped out because it was too long.
Neil: Kylie came in and sang on “In Denial”.
Neil: Finished recording “Closer To Heaven”
Neil: I did the vocals for “Drunk”.
Neil: Went into Sarm, heard the finished vocals.
Neil: Went to the Townhouse studios, heard mix of “In Denial”.
Neil: Finished mix of “Footsteps” at Townhouse. Bernard Summer phoned and came over. Bernard, Chris and I watched some of the Brits awards on TV and went out for dinner,
Neil: At the Townhouse to hear mix of “For All Of Us”.
Neil: In Sarm, remixing “New York City Boy”.
Neil: Finished mix of “New York City Boy
Neil: Started reworking “Night Life” using both David Morales’s parts and the original demo arrangement.
Neil: Goetz started mixing “Night Life”. March 19th.
Neil: Finished mix of “Night Life”. Alter dinner we went back to the studio and started working on “Silver Age”.
Neil: Back in Sarm; finished the mix of “Silver Age”. We also started remixing “I Don’t Know What You Want” that day, going through what was in David Morales’s production and what we’d done.
Neil: Sarm. And we left Goetz to start the mix of “I Don’t Know What You Want”.
Neil: Finished the mix of “I Don’t Know What You Want”.
Neil: Went to Swanyard to do another mix of “Radiophone”.
Neil: At that point, I think, we thought we had finished the album.
Neil: We went to Metropolis studios to cut the album, and Mitch and Merc came over with a Bottle of champagne to celebrate. In fact we decided after that to remix two tracks.
Neil: For “In Denial” we thought the rhythrn track was stiff. Craig Armstrong came down from Glasgow with his programmer Steve and we remixed it. He changed the drum sounds and bass line.
Neil: Goetz was at Olympic remixing “Footsteps”.
Neil: Went to hear Goetz finish mix of “Footsteps”.
Neil: Sarm West. Adjusting the mix of “I Don’t Know What You Want”. There was a bit of the song that we were taking out of it that went “If anyone can, the action man can”. Chris really hated it. That was the start of the whole song, originally. Chris said, “right, if Barbie’s a hit, why don’t we write one about Action Man?” Instead, I sang the “don’t know what you want bit in the middle and near the end.
Neil: Finished mixing “I Don’t Know What You Want…”
Neil: We recut the album in Metropolis in a new order – that evening EMI were having an international conference where they hired a small club near Funham road to play to all the international EMI staff. We went in to say hello.
Neil: Chris and I went to my house in the North where our studio now is. The Americans didn’t think there was a single for America and so we decided to write some new songs – we were quite keen to do that because we hadn’t really written anything for about a year. I’d had this idea for ages to write something on this piece of music by Rachmaninov, “Vocal’s”, and it became “Happiness Is An Option”. It’s sort of Lauryn Hill-esque.
Chris: I wouldn’t describe it like that. Neil: It’s got Sylvia all the way through. Chris: It’s more like Coo ho.
Neil: That whole hip hop thing.
Chris: And like Baz Luhrmann.
Neil: It’s not like Baz Luhrrnann! Chris: I think people will compare it to that. Neil: But it’s not giving instructions. Chris: It’s spoken.
Neil: We’ve always done that whole spoken word thing.
Neil: Carried on working on “Happiness Is An Option” and started on a new song based on a sample from a Tamla Motown song. It’s called “Somebody Else’s Business”.
Neil: We worked again in “Somebody Else’s Business” and started work on another new song, “The Ghost Of Myself’, which is sort of a Britney Spears meets Depeche Mode song.
Neil: Metropolis studios with Pete Gleadall, working on “Happiness Is An Option”, adding a few new parts.
Neil: Recording “Happiness Is An Option” onto tape and I put the vocals on. I had two lots of vocals and I tried to do it like Eminem with a lot of words, but I found it hard to do it fast without sounding American.
Chris then recorded a guide vocal where he did less of the words to give me an idea – it sounds more heartbreaking the way he does it – and I re-recorded my vocal more like his.
Neil: Back to Sarm West with Goetz and Pete Gleadall, mixing “Happiness…”
Neil: Sarm, finishing the mix.
May 25th, 26th and 27th.
Neil: Back in Sarm West, working on “The Ghost Of Myself’.
Neil: Finished the mix of “The Ghost Of Myself’ and I recorded a new rap for “Happiness Is An Option” because I wasn’t happy with the original one. I did it in a different vocal style and put a few more words in – it was a bit freeform before.
Neil: Went back to Metropolis and EQ’d “Happiness Is Not An Option” and cut the album in a new order for the third time.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1999: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1999 Issue 20