Album Review: Pet Shop Boys – “Bilingual”

Bilingual is the Pet Shop Boys’ sixth album, and it was released on September 2, 1996. Unlike the duo’s previous albums, Bilingual has a lot of worldwide influences, with the heaviest influence coming from Latin America. With such an emphasis on these worldwide musical influences, it makes the material from Bilingual have very little in common with the duo’s material that was released before and after this album.


Bilingual opens with “Discoteca.” Right away, you can hear the Latin American influence that is prevalent on the album, especially when the percussion kicks in. Overall, “Discoteca” is more of a midtempo song, but it is still a song you can dance to. The next song on the album is “Single,” which also heavily employs the Latin American percussion sound. This song was released as a single in the UK; however, the title was changed to “Single-Bilingual,” because Everything but the Girl released a song titled “Single” right around the same time. This is a more uptempo song than “Discoteca,” and also employs the synthesizers more blatantly than the previous track did.

The next song on Bilingual is “Metamorphosis,” and it incorporates horns alongside the synthesizers. Overall, this sounds closer to the “typical” Pet Shop Boys sound that fans of the duo expect, and it’s another upbeat song that you can dance to. This is followed by “Electricity,” which features the synthesizers rather heavily in its arrangement. It’s also the first slower song to appear on the album.

Next is “Se a Vida E (That’s the Way Life Is),” which was released as a single in the United States, as part of a double A-side release with “Top Step Aside.” This song utilizes the Latin American percussion and the horns that appeared earlier in the album. It’s a midtempo song, but it’s one that you can dance to. This is followed by “It Always Comes as a Surprise,” which is the longest song on Bilingual. It’s a ballad, and is one of the slowest songs included on the album. However, there’s a rather long introduction, and it takes the song a while to get going.

The next song on Bilingual is “A Red Letter Day,” which was released as a single in the UK; it features backing vocals by the Choral Academy of Moscow. While the song’s intro starts out slow, it picks up the pace into being a more midtempo number. This is followed by “Up Against It,” which prominently features the synthesizer, and sounds a lot closer to the “typical” Pet Shop Boys sound. It’s an upbeat song that is very danceable. It seems like the type of song that should have been a “no-brainer” to be released as a single; sadly, this was never a single.

Next is “The Survivors,” which is another slower song on the album, and the synthesizer is the musical focus of this song. This is followed by “Before,” which was released as the lead-off single for Bilingual. “Before” is a very synth-heavy song, with some of the Latin American percussion present, and is more of a midtempo track. It’s not a bad song, but musically, it sounds a bit more generic than I would expect from the Pet Shop Boys; personally, it sounds like the type of song that could have been recorded and released by just about any dance artist in the mid-1990s.

The next song on Bilingual is “To Step Aside,” which was released as a single in the US as a double A-side with “Se a Vida E (That’s the Way Life Is).” It’s another track that puts more of a focus on the synthesizers; it’s also a midtempo track that you can dance to. The album closes with “Saturday Night Forever,” with has a more “typical” Pet Shop Boys sound to it, and it incorporates some elements that I would associated with the disco music of the 1970s.

I have to give the Pet Shop Boys credit for trying to record an album that took their typical sound and incorporated international musical elements into their music; personally, I think that was an interesting idea for the duo to try. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure that the experiment worked as well as it could have. While Bilingual isn’t a bad album, and I do enjoy a lot of the songs on it, I don’t think it’s one of the stronger albums in their discography.

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