Released - 1987
Chart peak - UK #2, US #25

Visitors' rating (plurality): ★★★★★
Visitors' rating (rounded average): ★★★★☆
Wayne's rating: ★★★★☆

These star-ratings reflect how PSB albums compare to each other—not how they compare to albums by other artists.

The cover of the Pet Shop Boys' third album (and second "studio album") features one of the most indelible images not only of them but of all pop music history: both men wearing tuxes, Chris Lowe scowls at the camera while Neil Tennant yawns. It perversely embodies the rebellious "spirit of rock and roll" by turning that very spirit on its head. Although Neil has pointed out that his yawn was totally real and spontaneous, their selection of it for their album cover was brilliantly calculated, once more (as previously in "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)") casting them as anti-rock stars. Utterly iconoclastic at the time, this image has in the intervening years become an icon unto itself, often the target of tributes and parodies. (I used to have a separate page here on my website devoted to this very subject, but a legal challenge—not from the Pet Shop Boys, mind you—to my right to use certain images led me to delete it out of an abundance of caution.)

In the years since its release, Actually has been heralded by a number of critics as one of the major "musical documents" of the 1980s. For instance, U.K. writer Sophie Harris has hailed it as "one of the decade's most dazzling pop achievements," while U.S. critic Greil Marcus named it his choice as 1987's "Album of the Year." Neil himself once noted, "When this album came out many people, including ourselves, took the whole album to be loosely about Thatcherism"—in other words, essentially a critique of the socio-politico-economic zeitgeist of the period, when British politics were dominated by conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, particularly evidenced in such tracks as "Shopping," "Rent," "It Couldn't Happen Here," and the concluding "King's Cross." The Boys have acknowledged its importance in other ways as well, such as when Neil told an interviewer that, if he and Chris were ever to perform one of their albums "live" in its entirety, Actually would be their most likely choice.

The album title, incidentally, was reportedly chosen simply because it was a word that they (Neil in particular) used quite a lot—again an instance of calculated flippancy, which would prove a recurring motif in the Boys' career.

Top Picks by Voter Ratings

  1. It's a Sin
  2. King's Cross
  3. Rent

Wayne's Top Picks

  1. What Have I Done to Deserve This?
  2. It's a Sin
  3. It Couldn't Happen Here

Actually + Always on My Mind

In response to the Pet Shop Boys releasing their version of "Always on My Mind" and it becoming a huge hit even while Actually was still enjoying its initial chart run, their U.S. record company put out a new edition of the album with a bonus disc: the 12-inch "Always on My Mind" dance single. It therefore constituted an version of the album with two songs (and three tracks altogether) not available on the "album proper."

2001 Reissue Further Listening

In 2001, Actually was one of several PSB albums reissued with a bonus Further Listening disc that included several alternate mixes of some of the original album's songs, other tracks recorded around the same time, and the associated single b-sides. These b-side songs had previously been released on their Alternative compilation; the links below to those b-sides take you to my pages for those songs in my Alternative section (or, in the case of "I Want a Dog," to its page in my section for Introspective).

Further Listening 1987–1988