Second albums are supposed to be difficult but, of course, Pet Shop Boys have made a career out of doing things differently. Inevitably, then, Actually marks a commercial high-point in the duo’s lengthy recording career, and commanded a fair share of critical acclaim on its 7 September 1987 release, too.
Listen to ‘Actually’ here.
“I felt we had the secret of pop music”
The contrary ten-track collection may lack the sort of thematic focus that characterised Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s approach to many later albums, but there’s a consistency in two simple things: great songs and the confidence that comes from a developing track-record of creating hits. “I felt at this time that we had the secret of contemporary pop music, that we knew what was required,” admits Neil. “We entered our imperial phase… It was very exciting.”
The reason behind this confidence perhaps lay in the decision to sidetrack the predictable but creatively damaging demands of an international tour. Instead of embarking on lengthy treks around the world, Pet Shop Boys channelled their efforts towards ubiquitous TV promotion (essential for chart success back then – unless you were lucky enough to be a US superstar) and the creation of projects such as Actually.
A landmark album, many of its songs had been around a while. What Have I Done To Deserve This? had been written in early 1985 with songwriter Allee Willis and was shelved until Neil and Chris could persuade Dusty Springfield to come out of retirement for this pop masterpiece, which peaked at No.2 on both sides of the Atlantic. Album opener One More Chance had been recorded with Bobby O, and had even been released as a single in that early form in in the US and Belgium in 1984. Re-recorded here with Julian Mendelsohn, it perfectly established Actually’s tone: intelligent pop-dance where melody and mood demands as much attention as the beat.