Palette Magazine

In Tune: Pet Shop Boys, Andy Bell, Drag Teen and 45 Years are reviewed

By Gregg Shapiro

Pet Shop Boys
Pet Shop Boys Photo: © Pelle Crépin

Though Pet Shop Boys and Erasure didn’t invent gay Britpop, they went a long way toward perfecting it. These selections offer a fresh look at the beloved genre, as well as what it feels like to be teens on the road or a couple making discoveries about each other 45 years into marriage.

Grand Dames

Thirty years after releasing its critical and commercial hit debut, Pet Shop Boys returns with the aptly named Super (X2/Kobalt). Teaming up once again with Electric producer Stuart Price, PSB’s Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe don’t just spell out how they’re going to achieve bliss on opening track “Happiness,” they deliver it. Whether working personal nostalgia into songs like “The Pop Kids” or unleashing a more serious side as with “Sad Robot World,” PSB still sounds fresh and current. Best of all, at least nine of the 12 tunes qualify as irresistible dance tracks that fit in with — while updating — the duo’s brand and sound.

While Tennant and Lowe of Pet Shop Boys have resisted the desire to record solo albums, Andy Bell of Erasure already has two. His third is the import Torsten the Beautiful Libertine (SFE/Cherry Red). With it, Bell further explores his theatrical side on a project that is more Marc Almond (Soft Cell) than PSB. Essentially a sexually graphic music hall experience, a few songs — like “We Were Singing Along To Liza” and “Loitering With Intent” — have enough Erasure spirit to appeal to long-term fans, while the other tracks reveal another side of Bell.

Y/A? Why not?

Jeffery Self is on a tear. First, You’re Killing Me — the gay slasher comedy he co-wrote and stars in — has been released on DVD by Wolfe Video. Now his Florida-set Y/A novel Drag Teen (Push, 2016) is hitting bookshelves.

Desperate to find a way to earn a college scholarship and a way out of his boring hometown, JT agrees to take part in the Sixth Annual Miss Drag Teen Scholarship Pageant, despite the embarrassment of his prior attempt at drag during a school talent show. Encouraged by his hot boyfriend and classmate Seth and BFF Heather, the teen trio hightail it to New York during spring break. En route they get make-up tips, uncover the “ultimate drag closet of all time,” enter “the Epcot of gay bars” and survive car trouble, while living out teen trauma, drag drama and high jinks galore.

Year of Years

With 45 Years (Paramount Home Entertainment), gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh (Weekend, HBO’s Looking) goes straight, so to speak. Based on David Constantine’s short story, the action occurs the week prior to Kate (Oscar-nominated Charlotte Rampling) and Jeff’s (Tom Courtenay) 45th anniversary party.

The couple’s marriage is potentially jeopardized following the arrival of a letter, which reveals that in the early 1960s, shortly before Kate and Jeff were married, he was involved with a woman named Katia. While on a hike in Switzerland, Katia died in a fall, but her body was never recovered. However, due to changing climate conditions, it’s discovered preserved in ice. Ultimately, Kate is unprepared for the biggest discovery.

Haigh, who has a gift for creating cinematic intimacy, is at the peak of his skills here. The relationship, with all of its cracks visible on the faces of the couple, feels lived-in and genuine.