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Pet Shop Boys Versus America Hardcover – 4 Nov 1993
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"PSB vs. America" follows the Boys on their first Tour of America (which happened to be the second leg of their world-wide "Performance" Tour in 1991) and the overall telling of this experience is much more compelling than what had happened two years before during the MCMLXXXIX Tour. Why?
Firstly, "...vs. America" is a much classier book than its predecessor. The quality of the paper is very good and the book is flooded with beautiful, sincere - and somewhat unflattering pictures of the Boys by legendary photographer Pennie Smith.
Second - the book is tighter: by focusing on just one leg of the tour, the author avoid the many repetitions that plagued the first book.
Thirdly - and most importantly - on content, the book is very good at describing a band in crisis: crisis because they cannot "crack" the American market, crisis because their latest album "Behaviour." didn't do as well as its predecessors (and the boys bash it quite a lot in the book), crisis because Chris Lowe loses his temper on the "Tonight Show" and leaves, crisis because their new single "Where the streets have no name" struggles to be played on US radios and, overall, crisis because the Boys feel that they are on the slippery slope of indifference after having been one of the most successful acts of the 1980s.
Since, on top of it, they make absolutely no effort in becoming artistically approachable by touring with a show which is as ambitious as it is obscure (and documented on the "Performance" DVD - Performance [DVD] ), the Pet Shop Boys are self-consciously pressing some sort of artistic self-destruct button which is extremely well narrated in this book.
Versus "Literally", there is a sense that there has been much less editing, that the Boys didn't care to be shown in a less than flattering light. One could argue that the situation was the same as in the previous book but the major difference here is that the PSBs end up growing as artists and human beings by facing difficulty, by dealing with the habits of the US market, and by managing this growing insecurity over their talent. Indeed, the failure of "Behaviour.", rightly or wrongly, did raise questions about the band's career, which thus far had been a straight line to commercial and artistic triumph. This uncertainty, this crisis - which lasted three years between 1990 and 1992 and would lead to rumors of disbanding (a possibility that is explored at several stages in the book) tend to make Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe utterly more sympathetic and admirable. It is not with success that one takes the measure of a man - but it is more with how one falls and how one rises again. The glorious answer would only be revealed in "Very", two years after this tour, an album where the Boys would have to re-invent themselves, their image and their music to demonstrate to the world that they were not a historical accident in the first place.
"Pet Shop Boys versus America" beautifully catches Pet Shop Boys at a critical moment of their career, and by showing them at their most fragile, Chris Heath manages to make them closer, much closer to us working class heroes: a very, very good book indeed...
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