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Jun 10

PET SHOP BOYS – “Heart”

Popular89 comments • 5,114 views

#606, 9th April 1988, video

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.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    lonepilgrim on 3 Jun 2010 #

    this seems a good a point as any to mention a thought that occurred to me a little while after the previous discussion on the ‘canon’ – that the early influential ‘albums’ of the British invasion by the Beatles and Stones were released in different formats in the UK and USA so the ‘correct’ track listing is not always settled.

    Having started buying albums in the 70s I still feel that listening to them in sequence is the ‘right’ way but most music I listen to these days is on iTunes shuffle which is more like a mixtape experience – and, like PC @ 47, I find this does allow me to reappraise tracks.

  2. 62
    MikeMCSG on 3 Jun 2010 #

    # 47 I think you’re right about the economic angle. My own LP collection only really started after my personal golden age (78-81) had finished so I’ve always felt I missed out on running to the shops to buy Jam/Squeeze/Buggles LPs when they first came out.
    Even before the download thing I was finding that the more often I bought albums the less likely I was inclined to spend time with the ones that didn’t grab me at first. I’ve some from the nineties I’ve only played once. My own blog http://www.clarkechroniclersalbums.blogspot.com is partly an attempt to rectify this.

  3. 63
    thefatgit on 3 Jun 2010 #

    Here’s another thing, if you listen to an album in a “sterile” environment ie. in a room on your own with no interruptions, then certain aspects of the album will take on greater significance, as your brain will make connections with how you feel or what memories are stirred. This becomes a matter of individuality and personal experience.

    The problem is that there are fewer “sterile” environments in order to give of yourself to an album or artist. Listening on the move or in the company of others means that other stimuli come into play. No two shared experiences are identical. As are no two personal experiences are identical. The artist then, who may almost always create the album in a “sterile” environment (the studio) can no more influence the listening experience than preventing the sun from rising.

    In most cases, especially when listening to a canonical album where so much has been written and re-written by the music press, then the influence of the written word can and often does have an effect on the listening experience, sometimes retrospectively.

    The final point is that we live in an environment where so much of our lives is subject to external input, that we forget what it means to take time out and seek those sterile environments where we can just listen, in perhaps the same way we would take time out to read a book, so that those personal connections can be made. So many of us choose to snatch excerpts and moments out of context and accept them for what they are.

    So do you engineer the opportunity to listen to “Pet Sounds” in it’s entirety? Or do you snatch moments to listen to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “You Still Believe In Me” only to be distracted halfway through “That’s Not Me”?

  4. 64
    Tom on 3 Jun 2010 #

    I think the sterile environment tends to be just that!

  5. 65
    johnnyo on 3 Jun 2010 #

    i grew up with cds and, though i can certainly identify with the nostalgia of saving up to buy a cd and working hard to get some return on my investment, the 15-year old me was inconsolable once he realized he just did not *like* what he was hearing. in time, that young man became a chronically broke college student living mere blocks away from a record store that gave cash for used cds. you can imagine how my collection suffered. for four years anything but a stone cold favorite was getting sold for a slice of pizza and a six-pack. until the advent of file-sharing and iTunes, this was the story of my life. i can’t tell you how many times i bought and sold the exact same album until it finally clicked and joined the realms of the permanant collection.

    i must’ve bought and sold “Exile on Main Street” four or five times until i finally *got it* (tip: excessive drinking in your mid-twenties).

  6. 66
    LondonLee on 4 Jun 2010 #

    I rarely have the time to actually sit down and listen to a new album the way I did in the olden days, most of my listening now is done at work when I’m doing other stuff but I’ve still managed to become almost as familiar with say, the last Bat For Lashes album, as I am with any Jam record. It just takes a lot longer. Also, albums that take a bit of work to appreciate tend to have more longevity.

    I never play the second side of Low either but the first side is strong enough to make it one of the best albums ever made even if I only actually like 50% of it.

  7. 67
    swanstep on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Side 2 of Low strikes me as pretty much a complete knockout. If anyone needs to be talked into this then it might be worth while checking out Philip Glass’s terrific orchestration of it from back in the ’90s. Bowie and Glass discuss that (and you hear a few excerpts) here. Most orchestral arrangements of pop/rock are indifferent at best, utter embarrassments at worst. The Low Symphony, however, triumphantly achieves lift-off: it’s quite playable alongside your Gorecki’s and Britten’s in my view. But, hey, I thought Jonny Greenwood’s stuff for There Will Be Blood was *ace*, and I’ve enjoyed all of Clint Mansell’s s/tracks – so I may just be easy on this particular front.

  8. 68
    flahr on 4 Jun 2010 #

    “Heart” then: I didn’t feel the same sense of it being too unstraightforward that the main review and a few of the comments have picked up on, and I feel that the dryness of his voice actually gives it a sort of sincere tenderness. Still a 7.

    Albums vs. singles: I’m an albums listener rather than a singles listener (briefly: an interest in AOR and hence a rockist distaste for contemporary music while growing up which meant a) I didn’t listen to the radio and b) I consumed old music which in the CD-pre-internet age you did through albums) and I generally prefer to listen to albums most of the way through rather than skipping tracks. If I was more time-pressured, however, I suspect I would just go for the hits, and in fact I suspect that because I listen on Spotify, my mp3 player for instance (and when I do that it’s mostly not albums but the whole library on shuffle) the majority of my listening is probably one song at a time – then when I decide to listen to ‘an album’ it’s an event and something I sit all the way through.

  9. 69
    rosie on 4 Jun 2010 #

    In the days after CDs but before instant downloads a friend of mind had her CD player programmed to play an expurgated version of Tapestry (without Smackwater Jack

    Of course, a vinyl album had the potential to be a miniature 2-act opera (dare I mention Bat Out Of Hell?). An original CD could be a perfect one-act opera. Puccini, bless him, invented the perfect single-CD opera with Gianni Schicchi 70 years before the CD. But then in the 21st century with single track downloading and Classic FM that would be reduced to the 2-minute showstopper mio babbino caro and the glories of the rest of the piece lost for ever!

    There are many albums that are a rag bag of randomly-ordered tracks but the best opnes, just like the best home-made tape compilations, had an overarching narrative that made the whole much more that the sum of its parts.

  10. 70
    punctum on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #63: I find it impossible to listen to bits of Pet Sounds; it really has to be experienced in its entirety, as a discrete work.

    But possibly that’s why DVDs have taken over; people tend to need to do something else while they’re listening to something, i.e. have something to look at, although given the vital visual factor of pop this was always going to happen. Of course it means that you’re hearing something rather than listening to it but maybe that’s become a rarefied art; a pity if it has.

    #68: Don’t know where “albums vs. singles” came in; this is about ways of listening.

  11. 71
    thefatgit on 4 Jun 2010 #

    It’s the optimist in me that says: this new album I bought demands my full attention. So you can imagine I’ve been disappointed quite a few times! However, there is this feeling of “getting your money’s worth” on any investment, so call me old school if I’m going to spend some time on that investment. I still like to think that buying and playing a new album can be an “event”. The last album that felt like it lived up to “event” status was Burial’s “Untrue”.

  12. 72
    rosie on 4 Jun 2010 #

    @70 I think the ‘vital visual factor of pop’ is a generational thing. My own pop experience was in sharp decline by the time the pop video became an essential part of the experience. The kind of pop I grew up with came out of the radio (originally in sixty-second excerpts on a very dodgy signal) and on record, and I’ve never really got used to the idea of song and video being an inseparable whole. Actually I find hearing something I don’t know for the first time through the Popular video is an irritating distraction and I’d rather hunt down an audio file. In much the same way that if an interesting news link on a website turns out to be a video rather than a page of text I can scan quickly I often can’t be bothered. It may also explain why I manage to live without a televisual device – I don’t much like having all my attention demanded when only my ears, or only my eyes, are needed.

  13. 73
    punctum on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #71: The Burial album wasn’t an “event” since most people still aren’t aware of him.

    #72: You don’t think that what Elvis or the Beatles or Sinatra looked like and did was a key factor in their popularity? Would “Heartbreak Hotel” have had such an impact if Presley had resembled, say, Arthur Lucan?

  14. 74
    punctum on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #71 PS: although on a “personal event” level it would count but then wouldn’t every album released be an “event” for someone?

  15. 75
    Mike Atkinson on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #72/#73 – In terms of impact on the imagination, I do think there’s a difference between the general look/style of a performer, and the specific look/style of a video. That’s part of the reason why I prefer Spotify over YouTube; when I listen to a song, I generally don’t want to get locked into the memory of a video.

  16. 76
    punctum on 4 Jun 2010 #

    Technology tends to fill long-suppressed desires. I daresay kids in the fifties would have killed to have a machine where you could listen to Elvis and watch him at the same time whenever you wanted.

  17. 77
    thefatgit on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #74 Absolutely, a personal event. And I take your point that for somebody somewhere, anything will take on event status. Like childbirth and marriage and death, events that are commonplace can be extraordinary. It’s a matter of perspective.

  18. 78
    Steve Mannion on 4 Jun 2010 #

    How many of you ever made up music videos in your head for songs you loved which didn’t have them? I still do this.

  19. 79
    rosie on 4 Jun 2010 #

    #76 – I think kids in 1957 were thrilled to bits to have a machine that made Presley sing to order along with their cheeseburger and coke float. Even if they couldn’t see him.

    #78 I can’t remember there ever being a song I wanted to put a video to, although I can think of many instrumental pieces I have done exactly that with. I certainly constructed a complete animation in my head to Frank Zappa’s Peaches en Regalia and have often wished I’d had an opportunity to realise it.

  20. 80
    flahr on 4 Jun 2010 #

    @70: you’re right, of course, and that was a disingenuous way of summing up the discussion. What I meant was listening to something as an album vs listening to it as single tracks (though that is different from the issue of skipping tracks or not), and that’s manifestly not what I said.

  21. 81
    lonepilgrim on 4 Jun 2010 #

    re78 stirs up horrible memories of DLTs new vids for old songs programme

  22. 82
    Tom on 5 Jun 2010 #

    THE GOLDEN OLDIE PICTURE SHOW. This had more influence (mostly very BAD influence) on my impression of old music than anything else ever. I think I mentioned it in an old Popular entry (Mungo Jerry?). Now of course I’d love to see an edition – maybe Youtube will provide…

  23. 83
    Mutley on 10 Jun 2010 #

    #76 “Technology tends to fill long-suppressed desires. I daresay kids in the fifties would have killed to have a machine where you could listen to Elvis and watch him at the same time whenever you wanted”

    Kids in the late 50s and early 60s did have such a machine, called the Scopitone – a type of jukebox featuring a 16 mm film component. There is a Wikipedia page on it which states that it came originally from France featuring amonst others the perpetual Johnny Hallyday singing “Noir c’est noir” (i.e. a cover of Los Bravos “Black is Black”). The only thing I can recall seeing on such a machine was Screaming Lord Sutch (“Jack the Ripper”), although according to Wikipedia, there was also Telstar, Neil Sedaka (“Calendar Girl”)and Nancy Sinatra (“These Boots are made for Walking”) among others. These video jukeboxes were not very common and were ultimately unsuccessful. After all, who wants to watch videos in coffee bars or pubs (and you had to pay), even with today’s high technology?

    #73. The related issue of whether “Heartbreak Hotel” would have had such an impact if Elvis had resembled Arthur Lucan. It could be said that rock’n’roll, and therefore most subsequent chart music, was kick-started by the Arthur Lucan of pop – i.e. Bill Haley of “Rock around the Clock” fame, who like Arthur’s alter ego, Old Mother Riley, was an older person, not at all good-looking or sexy, but very popular and appearing in cheap but successful films. Actually, the first time I heard “Rock around the Clock” (and therefore any rock’n’roll whatsoever) was on Hancock’s Half Hour in November 1955, when they did a spoof of the film “Blackboard Jungle” featuring “Rock around the Clock” in the background. As an innocent 12 year old I had never heard of Blackboard Jungle, Bill Haley, rock’n’roll, rhythm and blues, let alone Elvis. I was convinced that the song was produced by the Hancock team and was sung by Bill Kerr, Hancock’s gormless sidekick, who had a voice somewhat similar to Bill Haley’s. I was bowled over by the music, which instantly replaced “Robin Hood” (riding through the glen) and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” (king of the wild frontier) as my music of choice.

  24. 84
    Tom on 10 Jun 2010 #

    Spotting a bonkers video out of the corner of yr eye on a pub TV = one of life’s fine minor pleasures.

    Paying money to put a video on in a pub = madness.

  25. 85
    Matthew H on 28 Jul 2010 #

    When Actually came out, I remember PSBs doing a track-by-track – probably in Smash Hits, possibly Record Mirror; I was still umming and ahhing between the two – and Neil Tennant coming out with one of my favourite lines when talking about Heart. I say favourite, but I can’t remember exactly – something like, “Heart has, as musicologists say, a great middle bit…” I like to latch “as musicologists say” onto every hopeless statement I make. Anyway, when I finally heard the song for myself, I thought the “middle bit” was weak. So there you go.

  26. 86
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Jonh Wilde, March 26 1988;

    “As a man who has just this minute given up believing that all good things turn wretched, I am thunderstruck. The gap between my lips is wide. After their lugubrious reading of ‘Always On My Mind’, things diminish further with this sour self-parody. Destitute of all light. What happened to the friskiness? This abject surrender, I trust, is temporary. Or there will be trouble at t’mill. You’ve had it too easy my friends. What happened to my admiration? It lies so limp. If Pet Shop Boys are statring to slide, if they continue to frazzle, God help us all. This is lazy thinking. It must stop. Think of irony. Sleep in a hat. Something. wasn’t it Picasso who used to wander off in the middle of sexual intercourse to count his money? Now that’s what we need.”

    Wilde awarded single of the week to 10,000 Maniacs’ ‘What’s The Matter Here?’. Also reviewed that week;

    The Darling Buds – Shame On You
    Cher – We All Sleep Alone
    Danny Wilson – Mary’s Prayer
    T’Pau – Sex Talk (Live)
    The Lover Sleeps – No More ‘I Love You’s

  27. 87
    Martin F. on 10 Jan 2011 #

    Oh, thank god for #10. This song is ruined by the Pigeon Street-esque “coo” sounds. Well, not ruined, but you feel like Long-Distance Clara would approve, and that’s not what the charts are there for.

  28. 88
    wichita lineman on 10 Jan 2011 #

    Pigeon Street-ness means I prefer the album version, which is coo-free.

  29. 89
    hectorthebat on 18 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 24
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 36

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