Making Fun of Art: Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” vs. Flight of the Conchords’ “Inner City Pressure”

 

Pet Shop Boys are soon to release a new album (Elysium on September 5), with their unabashed London Olympic anthem “Winner” out ahead of time.  With that in mind, here’s a reflection on one instance where PSB has has played a major influence.  And that, of course, is on the Flight of the Conchords song (and corresponding in-episode music video) “Inner City Pressure.”

Now this comparison is obvious, considering the FOTC song is a blatant parody of the former.  But play along: their ability to recall a song just to poke fun at it is uncanny, if perhaps a little nihilistic.  But nonetheless, whether for comedy or not, their musical prowess shouldn’t go unrecognized.  Being more than just copy-cat artists. (Of the duo that is Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, Bret actually won an Oscar a little while back for his original contribution to the Muppets movie soundtrack).

(^Note Bret’s ability to flawlessly evoke Neil Tennant in the vocals,  that unmistakably 80’s dance beat, and that emotively uneventful “just stand there!” Jermaine emits, in a similar fashion to those female background vocals in the former.)

FOTC, via their eponymous and since deceased HBO show, have parodied the likes of (the untouchably great) David Bowie (“Bowie’s In Space”), Led Zeppelin (“Frodo”), and  the Black Eyed Peas (e.g. “Sugar Lumps,” “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor”).  But each time, they craft songs with a skilled musical perceptiveness, a the kind of erudition that might describe the class clown who finds school so incredibly easy he becomes disruptive.

But when they are ‘making fun’ of Bowie or the Pet Shop Boys, they aren’t really making fun of the artists, so much as using them as a conduit for their silly antics and and unique wit.  That is to say, they can parody Bowie without showing any disrespect.  After all, it’s just a joke.

(^That “Let’s Dance” gag at the end is classic–tan blazers and all).

It has always been a little jarring: the idea of a musician setting his art, and something as pure as music, to jokes.  Of course this has been done by the likes of Tenacious D (only more rock-tastic) and myriad piano/guitar-wielding comedians (Demetri Martin, Steven Lynch, Zach Galifianakis, etc.).  But unlike the rest, a fine line is treaded, as what is self-described as “New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk-parody duo” have the capacity to be clever as well as good musicians, who make way more original songs (which only might parody the broadness of a genre) than parodies of others (which still are technically ‘originals’, in terms of original chords and the like, although they are written in an aesthetically-obvious stylistic recognizance).  In fact, their folk-picking can be downright beautiful.  Until, of course, you realize that in between those Simon and Garfunkel harmonies and accosting strumming is some gangsta-style rapping about having ‘hurt feelings.’

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