Single Review: Pet Shop Boys – ‘Winner’

“‘Winner’ should’ve been offered to Little Mix or any other reality TV success whose pretty faces float disembodied in mid-air, lacking any colour, passion or personality”


Digital Release: July 3, 2012

Physical Release: N/A

We all have those acts whose material always sees our critical faculties secretly suspended. We’re not quite sure why we like them; all we know is that we do. Ask anyone with a fair taste in music and they’ll tell you they enjoy someone whose music sticks out like a sore thumbs against the rest of their collection and aren‘t ashamed to have to relegate them a “guilty pleasure”. For me it was Pet Shop Boys for a long time. But in light of new single ‘Winner’, the first from their eleventh LP ‘Elysium’ and a song which has a brass bollocks to sound like a half-arsed attempt at an Olympics 2012 anthem (an arguably more traditional vibe coming from Tennant than that which is wailed from Matt Bellamy of Muse, who ended up providing the official song for the Olympics), I simply could not sit here and write about continued subtle excellence and nonchalant, silver-tongue satire imbued into ‘Winner’ when in fact the song sounds like it should’ve been offered to Little Mix or any other reality TV success whose pretty faces float disembodied in mid-air, lacking any colour, passion or personality. Where the indirect, suave critical verve of Pet Shop Boys used to be sits an uncomfortably optimistic ordeal about fair-play and triumph in the end; surrounded by light cushions of synths such saccharine civility lends to a thoroughly bland delivery; with lyrics so obvious, uninspired and clichéd as those on ‘Winner’, it’d take nothing short of a miracle to actually draw any sort of emotional response from them, aside from a quaint smile at the blasé pleasantry of the song’s ubiquitous and frustratingly unnecessary sense of equality. Of course, Tennant’s voice was part of the brilliance of their earliest tracks – a nigh-monotonous drone that served their music well as the tool for many a pseudo-objective commentary about class divides, societal and anti-Thatcherism, but here it just pails.

Cast your mind back to the days of ‘Please’ and ‘Actually’, when Pet Shop Boys were the pioneers of awkward middle-distance gazing and deliberately deadpan vocal delivery and you find yourself at a complete loss hearing ‘Winner’, unable to believe that Tennant wrote the lyrics himself as he launches headlong into a chorus that includes the lines “You’re a winner/I’m a winner/This is all happening so fast/Let’s enjoy it all while it lasts”, wondering where the wit and musical brilliance that gave the world ‘West End Girls‘, ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’ and even 2009’s ‘Love, etc.’. It could be argued that Tennant realises political satires haven’t sold for decades, the last hit of such an ilk being a one off from Coldplay, of all acts (‘Violet Hill’). But even then the song wouldn’t appeal to anyone remotely interested in the likes of Cheryl Cole and David Guetta; it is in fact, a song that lacks a demographic – too commercial to spark the interest of long-time fans and too uncool to interest the teenyboppers obsessing over chart trends.


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