Release Date: Jul 16, 2013
Record label: Sony
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Alternative Dance, Dance-Rock
“After being for so many years/the life and soul of the party/it’s weird – I’m invisible”. So went Invisible, the first teaser released for Pet Shop Boys’ 2012 album Elysium. The line could inadvertently serve as the album’s epitaph. Clearly striving for a stately and elegiac tone, its limp bloodlessness instead was typical of what became their most ignored album.
During Andy Murray’s straight sets Wimbledon final win against Novak Djokovic, I repeatedly warned anyone who would listen that writing the defeated Serbian off as 'mentally done in' was akin to Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor’s relieved hug when that tanker driven by Arnie crashed and exploded, apparently incinerating the T-101 (spoiler alert: that terminator is out there... and it absolutely will not stop). Turns out that when I thought the Pet Shop Boys were done as a relevant pop band, I should have listened to my own advice.
There’s a case to be made that the Pet Shop Boys didn’t give 2012’s Elysium their all. The electropop duo’s 11th album had some lyrical wit and finely tuned melodic moments, but otherwise Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe came off as if they were sleepwalking through the whole thing. It was an especial letdown coming on the heels of the previous album, Yes, one of the band’s finest statements of their long career.
Pet Shop Boys’ defining era, their self-described “imperial phase”, began nearly 20 years ago. They owned it in ridiculous style. Show me a band with a better run of singles than their first 10 and I’ll show you the list of theirs again, point to ‘Left To My Own Devices’, ‘Rent’ and ‘Suburbia’, then sing you the rest in painstaking detail.
“BANGING”. If there’s a word that best describes Pet Shop Boys’ 12th album it’s “BANGING”. Possibly with an exclamation mark. Last year’s beautifully autumnal yet sadly underrated Elysium may’ve suggested Neil “Chilly T” Tennant and Chris “Chris” Lowe – both now fiftysomethings – were ready to bide their twilight years in relative tranquillity, their status as “Eccentric National Treasures” assured.
While it entirely feels like a return to form, there's nothing quite like Electric in the Pet Shop Boys' back catalog, at least not on an album level. Immediately achieving escape velocity from the dour doldrums of their previous effort Elysium, this taut, electro-disco wonder kicks off with the Kraftwerk-meets-Giorgio Moroder highlight "Axis" and stays in the zone with both icy cool productions from Stuart Price (Madonna, Seal, Kylie Minogue) and a bpm count that remains high with nothing coming close to a slow dance ballad. While previous albums were broken up by large scale numbers like "It Couldn't Happen Here" or slow burners like "Love Comes Quickly," this one adds variety by going for danceable wit ("Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" so "You won't see me with a bunch of roses/Promising fidelity"), sheer joy ("Bolshy" is both ridiculous and ridiculously fun), and Bruce Springsteen ("The Last to Die" is a cover of the Boss' anti-war number, now turned into a floor-filler, and it somehow works).
A year before Daft Punk channelled the sands of California soft rock into Random Access Memories, British pop duo Pet Shop Boys made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles to record their languorous Elysium album with producer Andrew Dawson. Fans and critics were torn by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe's often acerbic mid-tempo introspection. In particular, Tennant has said, the duo was stung by an iTunes reviewer who felt that Elysium needed "more banging and lasers." It wasn't long before they were back in London with Madonna collaborator Stuart Price.
Quite what provoked all this is a matter for debate. Tennant has talked about being struck by a negative iTunes review of Elysium that demanded "more banging and lasers", but it's also worth taking into account the presence of producer Stuart Price, who helmed Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor and is thus something of a past master at returning pop stars of a certain vintage to clubland. Whatever the reason, a band that sounded pretty weary eight months ago sound recharged and inspired.
It's been less than a year since veteran synthpop wizards Pet Shop Boys released their mellow and moody eleventh studio album, Elysium. Having left Parlophone Records after 25 years, they've quickly returned with a brand new album on a brand new label. Produced by Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers, Scissor Sisters), Electric sounds like the duo's retort to the disappointment expressed by fans and critics about the absence of Pet Shop Boys' signature lively and danceable pop on Elysium.
Last September's weary, autumnal Elysium didn't offer much hope for the future of Pet Shop Boys, so it's a bit of a surprise that they've whipped up its sequel in under a year. (Or, rather, its companion, including some songs they started at the earlier sessions). It'se even more of a surprise that Electric is their most immediate, jubilant record in at least a decade-- a return to a couple of elements of their work that had been lying fallow for too long.
“Return to form” is a common refrain in discussions about the Pet Shop Boys. Fans are wont to gripe whenever the British duo, best known for their '80s dance hits, turn down the BPMs and get serious. Their post-9/11 album, Release, was remarkably heavy on guitar and piano and light on club bangers. It's one of the most fascinating and thrilling things they've ever done—and it was instantly forgotten.
"This is my kind of music. . . . I like the singer, he's lonely and strange," Neil Tennant sings over the house-y pound of "Vocal." Pet Shop Boys have always stirred pathos into the punch, and on their 12th album they rediscover the bliss of introspective throb. Stuart Price, the electro maven who ….
That gambit – of confounding expectations – plays far better on The Last to Die, a Bruce Springsteen cover that brings a poignant Pet Shop glide to an anti-war polemic. The album's stand-out pop tune, Love is a Bourgeois Construct, actually bears a fleeting resemblance to the intellectual synth-pop of Neon Neon, and finds both Boys in prime form – Tennant musing drily, Lowe's metronomic wriggle pushing everything along inexorably. Electric makes a bold claim: that a certain strain of tuneful hedonism has no compulsory retirement age.
After the calm of Elysium comes the storm of Electric. The second album in 10 months from Pet Shop Boys couldn’t be more different to its predecessor. While Elysium contemplated aging, love, and death with a relatively quiet passion, Electric captures the UK duo in full-on dance mode. The new album, produced by coveted British Mixmaster, Stuart Price, includes a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last To Die” alongside eight new PSB songs where the accent is positive and melancholy is largely danced away in euphoria.
"TURN IT ON. " When you review music, you get the urge to Do A Morley every now and then. Do A Morley (dictionary definition): the act of engineering a research-heavy, word-weighty extrapolation of a work of art, because more straightforward reviews have been done elsewhere/the artist(s) in question have a deep well of references within their body of work/you, the writer, fancy poncing about like a tit for a bit, and can't properly organise your thoughts on the page.
A dozen records into a 30-plus-year career and the British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys sound as vital, catchy and frustrated as ever. Modern without feeling forced and filled with the melodic bounce that typifies their best work, "Electric," in a word, bangs, and sees the Pet Shop Boys at their most celebratory and wittiest. "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" giddily denounces love with a big thumping dance beat while in the background a men's choir offers majestic harmony.
Pet Shop Boys’ last album, “Elysium,” was beige, assisted living facility synth-pop at best. What a difference a year makes. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s 12th album, “Electric” opens with a demand of “Turn It Up” and a quick dive into throbbing Moroder-inspired electronic soul.
Let’s start with a bit of a hatchet job: Pet Shop Boys’ last album, 2012?s Elysium, was the dampest squib in their otherwise glittering catalogue. Reaching for the melancholy of their 1990 masterpiece Behaviour, it actually sounded more like a b-sides collection than the same year’s Format, which was a b-sides compilation. Themes and lyrics were recycled (‘Your Early Stuff’ was a less-than-witty rehash of ‘Yesterday, When I Was Mad’, while ‘Ego Music’ did the same with ‘How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?’), its sombre tone came off as mere dinner party fodder, and ‘Winner’ – “You’re a winner! I’m a winner! This is all happening so fast!” – was the year’s most transparently calculated bid for Olympic cultural glory that didn’t involve Emili Sandé.
After 28 years with Parlophone, Pet Shop Boys’ twelfth album is their first released via their own label - and if ‘Electric’ is anything to go by, it’s rejuvenated the band. It’s the sound of a band as sophisticated and vital as ever. It’s a record that’s arty and poppy and clever and sophisticated but very much aimed at the dance floor.