A year after their debut Please came out, Pet Shop Boys released a synth pop masterpiece with Actually. Retaining a similar album cover to their debut, this time around Neil Tennant is featured yawning on the but with what is contained inside, that reaction could not be further than from the truth. Side one is flawless. The spikey, dance track “One More Chance” opens up the album before second single “What Have I Done to Deserve This” comes in. Featuring 60s star Dusty Springfield, this #2 on both sides of the Atlantic became a radio staple throughout the mid-80s and fit in very well with other duets at the time from George Michael/Aretha Franklin, Michael Mcdonald/Patti Labelle, and the Dirty Dancing tracks.
The heart of the record is in the next three tracks – the retail critique of “Shopping”, the dour yet sophisticated “Rent” and upbeat “Hit Music”. On side two, the UK #1 “It’s A Sin” symphony effects underlay lyrics that rail against the church claiming that everything the band does is a sin. With a Nesfaratu-like video guaranteeing plays every Halloween, “Heart” was the duo’s last UK #1. Album closer “King’s Cross” is PSB’s first great ballad, a classy affair that lays the ground work down for “Being Boring” a few years later. Even with the success of “West End Girls” two years earlier, it took Actually to firmly push Pet Shop Boys into being a true pop hit contender rather than a mere curiosity or one hit wonder.
The further listening disc presents numerous remixes and B-sides. Whereas the original is more meandering, the “One More Chance (Seven Inch Mix)” is more direct with a driving beat. The Shep Pettibone remix of “Heart” adds shimmering synths and electronic steel drums. It’s a full two minutes before “It’s a Sin (Disco Mix)” becomes familiar to listeners and the extended version of “What Have I Done…” is a keeper. “Always on My Mind” is presented here twice but the original single version released during this time period is missed and could easily have been added. Unlike the extras presented on Please that reworked many tracks to great effect and added B-sides that were almost as good as the A-sides, somehow the extras here seem less essential and less fun.
Actually – 9/10
Further Listening – 7/10