BehaviourBehaviour

Released - 1990
Chart peak - UK #2, US #45

Behaviour was recorded in Munich with co-production by German analog synth wiz Harold Faltermeyer. It has acquired the reputation of being the Pet Shop Boys' "downer" album: it has more slow and mid-tempo tracks than any of their other albums (with the possible exception, more than a decade later, of Release), and many of the songs have decidedly somber lyrical themes. Yet it also boasts some of their most striking and memorable melodies and arrangements—in the words of one critic, this is the album on which Tennant and Lowe "demonstrate their songwriting chops"—and is thus very much a fan favorite. In fact, some critics have cited it as the Boys' first "fully mature" album, in which the seemingly frivolous concerns of the past (which had largely been the result of critical misinterpretations anyway) have been left behind and replaced by a much more serious, contemplative worldview. It is a very serious album in which, for one thing, AIDS weighs more heavily over the proceedings than ever before. Carefully listening to Behaviour all the way through in one sitting can be a very moving experience.

In light of the spectre of AIDS—more specifically, the AIDS-related death of a very dear friend of Neil's (as noted below with "Being Boring")—one of my site visitors has shared a fascinating observation. Alfina Wilson notes that all five of the stages of grief first described by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her seminal 1969 work On Death and Dying are represented on the album:

  1. Denial: "To Face the Truth"
  2. Anger: "Jealousy"
  3. Bargaining: "So Hard"
  4. Depression: "The End of the World"
  5. Acceptance: "My October Symphony," "Only the Wind"

Is Behaviour, at least in part, a reflection—perhaps even a "working through"—of the Boys' own grief processes during this time of their lives as they dealt with both personal and collective mourning in the wake of AIDS?

Incidentally, the title of the original U.S. edition was spelled in the American style, Behavior, although for the 2001 reissue even the U.S. version was assigned the British spelling. And as for that title, regardless of its spelling—why? It's perhaps the single most cryptic album title in the PSB canon. What does it mean? Only the Pet Shop Boys can say for sure what they had in mind. But, as far as I know, they've always been fairly reticent about the subject, simply referring to their desire to choose a more "personal" title than those of their previous collections, one that was (in Neil's words) "sad and un-ironic," reflecting the album's general mood. To me, from an admittedly somewhat academic perspective, the title sounds rather sociological in nature. Indeed, Behaviour comes across as a sociological treatise on the 1980s, documenting in many ways the results of common attitudes and, yes, behavior of the decade. Whether it's the devastation of AIDS, the outcomes of greed, infidelity, and promiscuity, the poses of pop stardom, or the virtual collapse of communism, in one song after another the album details the sense of loss and confusion wrought by individual and collective behavior gone awry.

Top Picks by Voter Ratings

  1. Being Boring
  2. So Hard
  3. Jealousy

Wayne's Top Picks

  1. Being Boring
  2. How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?
  3. My October Symphony