Often lazily labelled a quintessentially British phenomenon, the simplistic Pet Shop Boys stereotype was thrown out the window with Bilingual. The most internationally influenced of the duo’s records, it was released as their sixth album, on 2 September 1996, following the No.1 success of Very. In true Pet Shop Boys fashion, however, the pair delivered a let’s-do-it-differently strategy in everything that followed.
Listen to ‘Bilingual’ here.
Defying market logic
To begin, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were in no hurry. Defying market logic that you had to follow a hit super-fast, sessions started in 1994 and weren’t completed until two years later. Additionally, the undeniable “New World” influences were far ahead of the curve (the Latin-pop explosion was still a few years off) and seemed out of sync with almost everything else in charts that were then dominated by Britpop and anonymous dance music.
Peaking at No.4 and selling almost two million copies worldwide, the Bilingual project launched with Before – one of four singles from the album. David Morales was due to collaborate with the pair, but bailed at the 11th hour, pushing rising superstar DJ Danny Tenaglia into the frame for a song which contained all the classic Pet Shop Boys ingredients needed to take it into the UK Top 10
Second single Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is) is the Bilingual track everyone first returns to. Its Latin-pop confidence fuses well with an almost musical-theatre serving of sunny, youthful optimism, and the Bruce Weber video is a masterpiece. Still holding its own among the best Pet Shop Boys songs, it is based on a track by African-Brazilian band Olodum that Neil came across in San Paolo.