The Pet Shop Boys’ last and most unexpected Number One is also their most stripped-down, in texture and mood – “Heart” is a synthpop love song of uncomplicated devotion. They wrote it for Madonna, apparently, but never offered it to her. Understandably, you might think – there’s not very much to play with here, little of the edge or contradiction Madonna laces her material with. But it might easily have worked for one of italo disco’s sweetly blank divas, or one of the colder modern students of pop, a Sally Shapiro or an Annie maybe.
I think ‘affectless’ would suit “Heart” better than ‘sincere’ – it would get the singing out of the music’s way, and the music on “Heart” is enormously enjoyable, syndrums and all. While “It’s A Sin” and “Always On My Mind” took the full-on approach, “Heart” only hints at the epic, dropping string snatches, guitar strums and chopped vocal samples in and out discreetly over its metronome disco. It’s a preview in clockwork miniature of the more expansive long-form approach the group would take on the superb Introspective, not a drum machine or keyboard out of place.
But as a song? “Heart”‘s problem is that it is a simple record – attractively so – but its delivery misleads you away from that. When PSB are in overload or sentimental mode Neil Tennant’s vocals are an anchor: here though he walks you through the song drily, spelling everything out. He sounds clever, which makes you think the song must be clever too: that there has to be some hidden side or twist to “Heart”. And of course there isn’t, which makes its simplicity feel – unfairly – like a cheat or a letdown, and makes “Heart” seem slighter than it might have been.