The phrase “left to one’s own devices” entered routine English usage around 1300, by way of the Old French “à mon, ton, etc. devis”.
Device in this sense means “will, pleasure, inclination, fancy, desire” — one’s devices are little more than intuitive whims in absence of council, which guide us through our daily lives. The lyrics to Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Left To My Own Devices’ — the opening track on their third LP, Introspective, released thirty years ago in October — ostensibly gesture toward the potential gravity of such capricious decision-making: “I could leave you, say goodbye / or I could love you, if I try.”
In this song, “device” also encourages other interpretations, which imply intimacy and ambivalence at the hands of the contemporary technologies on offer in 1988: communications devices like mobile phones and satellite television; digital musical instrument devices such as synthesizers and sequencers; consumer electronic devices like CD players and Walkmans; networked devices like modems and faxes; even sexual devices that might render a partner unnecessary. All of these devices, which make modern life more seamless and convenient, bring us closer and isolate us at once, supplanting personal contact for user interfaces, speakers, and screens.
Introspective’s iconic color-bar cover image suggests a screen, too — a blank one — the ubiquity and immanence of ambient media. At first glance, it’s a test pattern, but weird, stylized, minimal, and almost electronic looking in its visual coincidence of gold, complimentary red and green, and an array of shocking pinks. The artwork also represents the album’s structure — six monolithic, extended dance tracks rather than a dozen or so shorter singles, which was a bold break from 1980s pop music convention that made the record more conducive to nightclub DJs and home listeners than casual radio airplay.
Nevertheless, an edited version of Pet Shop Boys’ Acid House rendition of Johnny Christopher, Mark James, and Wayne Carson’s ‘Always On My Mind’, perhaps best recognized as a sentimental country ballad sung by Willie Nelson in 1982, was the world’s third-highest charting single six years later. The 12-inch mix that also appears on the album contains an unexpected middle section called ‘In My House’, a minor-key detour featuring additional lyrics that relate to the original: “I worked so hard, I thought you knew / my love I did it all for you / I never really had the time / I guess you couldn’t read my mind.”
These phrases are subtly manipulated up and down in pitch, a technological trick that calls attention to the artificiality and malleability of media forms. Long before Auto-Tune, Pet Shop Boys’ manipulation of vocality effectively queered the refrain, entreating a subversive politics of frequency: these variations in tone and timbre rendered singer and muse more ambiguous, and also upended the song’s presumed hetero-normative orientation. When Willie Nelson sings ‘Always On My Mind’, we can be fairly certain that it is a man addressing a female lover; with Pet Shop Boys’ version, those positions and dynamics are no longer clear.
I was raised on country music, particularly the 1970s outlaw artists like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and especially Willie Nelson. The kinds of love songs these men sang were unimpeachably seminal and virile at the time, and it was exciting for those assumptions to be overturned by a British disco duo. Pet Shop Boys embodied a sense of masculine sensitivity, a Jungian world of ideas and concepts rather than things and people, an introverted character and temperament that I identified with. I was also at a difficult age, similarly wanting for strength and joy. And suddenly, here was music that appeared to speak directly to me.
What likewise appealed immediately about Introspective was its wholly state-of-the-art aesthetic. Music made with computers and samplers seemed so radical and futuristic, optimistic about the blurring of boundaries between techno and human agency — the relentless pursuit of mechanical and digital perfection. What electronic music’s critics now pejoratively identify as the rigid and angular sound of quantized MIDI sequencing was then considered its most desirable quality: drum machines and computers didn’t miss notes, they don’t lose their tempo or flub a chorus; they perform precisely, the same way, time after time.
The first time I heard Introspective was in a high-end hi-fi shop that my parents used to take me to, in a suburban strip mall before going to the movies. I loved gawking at all those sleek stereos — Bang and Olufsens looked straight out of science fiction — and listening to CDs, which were still new to my ear, and still signaled magic in their complete elimination of the surface noise that accompanied analogue recordings. On top of the digital perfection of Pet Shop Boys’ musical programming, there was additionally the digital perfection of the compact disc, and the unbroken chain of digitality — from recording, to mixing and mastering, to distribution format.
CDs almost struck me as divine, of alien origin, and worthy of worship. I loved Introspective not only because of the music, and the interior realms that it conjured, but also because it was on CD, because of all the devices that it implicated, and how wonderfully technologically advanced it all was. These things made the future seem like a shining place to be facing, not the cynical, caustic, dispassionate, algorithmically regulated digital dystopia that subsequently ensued. Digitality — its permanence and infinite replicability — somehow made the otherwise vulnerable Pet Shop Boys exude invincibility, in a world of their own.
In 2018, there is no lonelier a spectacle than a train car-full of people hurtling from non-place to non-place, from station to station, all staring down in silence, engrossed in their own devices. But 1988 was a high note, culturally speaking, for a pervasive belief, in the west at least, that technology and mass media could genuinely improve people’s lives, and that those improvements were inevitable. Introspective is a document of that confidence, a testament to music technology’s timeless wavelengths, and a clear-eyed articulation of the sincere hope that things were going to be alright.
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See our latest Pet Shop Boys items in stock below (updates automatically when new stock is added)
- Pet Shop Boys - Introspective - UK - vinyl LP - £15.00, $18.60, €17.10 (New Item) (arrived 20-Jan-2023 09:36)
PET SHOP BOYS Introspective (1988 UK 6-track vinyl LP including Left To My Own Devices & Always On My Mind. Picture sleeve and inner. The sleeve is in excellent condition and the vinyl shows minimal signs of play. PCS7325)
- Pet Shop Boys - Electric - UK - CD album - £9.99, $12.39, €11.39 (New Item) (arrived 18-Jan-2023 13:40)
PET SHOP BOYS Electric (2013 UK 9-track CD album, the twelth studio album from Neil & Chris with a guest appearance by Example, including the singles Axis, Vocal, Love Is A Bourgeois Construct, Thursday and Fluorescent, comes with the hypestickered fold-outpicture / lyric sleeve inlay X20003CD1)
- Pet Shop Boys - What Have I Done To Deserve This? - Card Sleeve - UK - 7" vinyl - £8.00, $9.92, €9.12 (New Item) (arrived 18-Jan-2023 09:46)
PET SHOP BOYS with DUSTY SPRINGFIELD What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1987 UK solid centre 7" vinyl single, also including A New Life, housed in a glossy card picture sleeve. The sleeve shows some light edgewear and, despite a few light surface scuffs showing evidence of play, the vinyl appears in excellent condition R6163)
- Pet Shop Boys - Behaviour - EX - UK - vinyl LP - £30.00, $37.20, €34.20 (New Item) (arrived 03-Jan-2023 15:19)
PET SHOP BOYS Behaviour (1990 UK 10-track LP, including So Hard & Being Boring, housed in a picture sleeve printed red inside complete with matching credits inner. The sleeve shows very little wear, whilst the vinyl remains in excellent condition with few signs of play PCSD113)
- Pet Shop Boys - Megamix - German - 12" vinyl - £12.00, $14.88, €13.68 (New Item) (arrived 19-Dec-2022 08:37)
PET SHOP BOYS Megamix (1988 German 5-track 12" single featuring the 8:04 Megamix [West End - Sunglasses, One More Chance & West End Girls], plus West End Girls [Remix 86] & One More Chance [Hurricane Mix byTess], picture sleeve)
- Pet Shop Boys - It's A Sin - UK - 12" vinyl - £9.99, $12.39, €11.39 (New Item) (arrived 23-Nov-2022 15:07)
PET SHOP BOYS It's A Sin (1987 UK 3-track 12" vinyl single, featuring the Disco Mix & 7" Version of the title track plus You Know Where You Went Wrong, glossy single pocket picture sleeve 12R6158)
- Pet Shop Boys - Heart - Chris Lowe - UK - 12" vinyl - £15.00, $18.60, €17.10 (New Item) (arrived 27-Oct-2022 10:49)
PET SHOP BOYS Heart (1988 UK 3-track 12" single including the Disco & Dance Mix plus I Get Excited, issued in the glossy 'Chris' picture sleeve. The sleeve shows only light edgewear and the vinyl is near as new 12R6177)
- Pet Shop Boys - It's Alright + Poster - EX - UK - 10" vinyl - £20.00, $24.80, €22.80 (New Item) (arrived 25-Oct-2022 12:26)
PET SHOP BOYS It's Alright (1994 UK limited edition 10" vinyl single, also includes the Extended Dance Mix, housed in a hype-stickered glossy titled sleeve complete with bonus fold-out poster. The sleeve has a few light storage marks and the poster has a little adhesive residue in the corners [where it has been previoulsy displayed], whilst the vinyl looks barely played 10R6220)