Saturday, February 17, 2007

Actually (1987)

"Rent" Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant hold legitimate claim to status as international stars, but that does not often make much impression on my American countrymen, who by and large consider them a one-hit wonder. That hit being "West End Girls," which scored in 1986. Never mind that my Billboard book lists five more American hits, four of them top 10. But let's get down to business. In spite of its many fine points, in the end "West End Girls" is little more than intriguing, production-heavy novelty. The enduring strength of this pair has turned out to be wry, poignant, witty, memorable pop songs. Here, "Rent" is hilarious -- "And look at the two of us in sympathy With everything we see I never want anything, it's easy You buy whatever I need... I love you, oh, you pay my rent" -- but they play it so sweetly straight that the pathos can tear your heart out in spite of yourself. "It's a Sin" sets forward one of their most successful formulas, a superficially banal sentiment that nonetheless burrows and burrows and finally manages to find its way to the profoundest depths via melody, production, and an elusive knowingness. The duet with Dusty Springfield, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," was the first place I turned when I learned of her death in 1999, and it was the right place to go.

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