By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online
The most successful pop duo ever, the Pet Shop Boys have gathered their 33 hits together on a new double album PopArt.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe wrote a new album while completing PopArt
It traces Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant's 18-year chart history from West End Girls to I Get Along, via It's A Sin, Always On My Mind and Go West.
While their lyrics remain sharp and their beats infectious, the pair were not keen to follow 1991's Discography with a second singles compilation.
Tennant explains: "Originally the album was going to be 'the best of the best' - 18 tracks from our entire career; but no-one could agree on which tracks."
Lowe adds: "We wanted to put some of our favourites on but they weren't necessarily the biggest hits. So we decided to include just about everything."
Inspired by a book lying around the office of Pet Shop Boys designer Mark Farrow, they assessed each of their singles as either "pop" or "art".
"Our 'pop' songs are euphoric, like Go West, Se A Vide E and A Red Letter Day, while the 'art' songs have a more complicated narrative," says Tennant.
"A song like Being Boring is autobiographical whereas I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More - well, you can tell it's really sad from the title."
Pet Shop Boys may no longer have global number ones but they deny veering away from "pop" and further into "art".
"I think you have to respect the pop convention," says Tennant. "The tension between self-expression and the commercial pop necessities is the sort of dichotomy that can create great interest."
As if to prove this, PopArt contains two new songs - the sweeping, orchestral single Miracles and bold electro dance track Flamboyant, said to hint at their next album currently being recorded in east London.
Singles missing from PopArt
How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? (1991)
Tennant: "It was a double A-side with Where The Streets Have No Name - our U2 cover got all the airplay"
Was It Worth It? (1991)
"Rather irritatingly, our only single that didn't get into the top 20"
Absolutely Fabulous (1994)
"We tried to make a record that lead character Edina would think was trendy - it's not an official Pet Shop Boys release"
Released only in Germany
"We produced the two songs out of nowhere and ended up pretty much writing the whole album," says Tennant.
Having kept a close eye on every Pet Shop Boys product, from album art to T-shirts to CD box design, the duo even scented their Miracles promotional CD single with lavender.
"It's always good when you put out a record to go as far as possible with it, so you know it's something special - not just some crappy piece of product that's been put out," Tennant says. "You know it's been made with loving care."
The duo's experimental nature has also seen them dressed in orange pointed hats, dinner jackets and fright wigs for their music videos, collected on a PopArt DVD.
"The bad thing was that the DVD was chronological so we just saw ourselves getting older in three hours, which was horrible," says Lowe.
Tennant agrees: "Videos where you used to think you looked terrible you now think you look good in."
The Pet Shop Boys' longevity has been matched by Madonna, Simply Red and George Michael, who also emerged in the mid-1980s; but only one electropop duo threatened their chart record.
"Don't mention Erasure - don't even go there!" jokes Lowe.
"Traditionally we were meant to feel a big rivalry with Erasure, but that's not really an 'us' thing," states Tennant . "It was never a Blur and Oasis situation.
"It used to annoy us that sometimes the public would blur the two groups. People often used to say: 'I like the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure' in the same breath.
"And we - and I'm sure they - always regarded ourselves as being really quite different in approach. But then some people stop me in the street and think I'm Holly Johnson, so whatever..."
PopArt is released on Parlophone on 24 November