Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: X2
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Alternative Dance
Following 2013’s ‘Electric’, Britain’s three-decade-old electro-pop institution once again combine their talents with maverick producer Stuart Price. Where that album was more dance, this one is more pop, harking back to the group’s literate, melancholic best.It still pumps, of course, from country-tinged opener ‘Happiness’ to the penultimate ‘Burn’ (“We’re gonna burn this disco down before the morning comes!”), but there’s always room for witty, lyrical songwriting. ‘The Dictator Decides’ and nostalgic single ‘The Pop Kids’ are cracking examples of the latter.
Pet Shop Boys party like it’s 1993 on their 13th studio album, SUPER, and it’s a spellbinding ride. It’s been 30 years since their debut Please and the international chart-topper “West End Girls” injected them into pop music’s bloodstream. Since then the Pet Shop Boys have thrilled fans the world over with a string of consistently excellent releases that each have a distinct personality.
Coming almost three years after their excellent, unexpected, and infectious LP Electric, 2016's Super is the second album where the Pet Shop Boys call themselves "electronic purists," holing up in the studio with returning producer Stuart Price and a mess of PCs, drum machines, and synths. The musical landscape is the same and still, it's not a sequel or a very proper follow-up. It feels confident, loose, and free like a swaggering epilogue, like the smaller Quantum of Solace following the epic Casino Royale.
First things first - the thirteenth album from a pop band who formed in the same year Charles and Diana got married has absolutely no right to be anywhere near as addictive or fresh as Super. But then, Pet Shop Boys never were interested in the boom-and-bust bell curve trajectory that most of their contemporaries are beholden to. In this way, it’s more appropriate to regard them as artists working in the field of popular music rather than out-and-out pop stars.
Throughout their long celebrated career, the Pet Shop Boys’ album titles have uniformly been one word. That word might signal the theme of the album or the sound of the record. But what their titles always manage is to represent the gracefulness and simplicity of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s work. ‘Super’, their 13th studio album, suggests the duo are perfectly at ease with their place in the world right now.
Reaching a significant birthday can often prompt great tides of nostalgia. Pet Shop Boys, 30 years old as a pop duo, have had that experience – but on the evidence of Super the anniversary looks set to be a wholly positive one. For now, alongside their success in pop music, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are a multimedia, multicultural concern, capable of turning their hands to classical music, ballet, the musical – as well as early 1990s British house music.
If you were to attempt to dream up a quintessential Pet Shop Boys song, it’s unlikely you could improve on Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s current single, The Pop Kids. It’s the tale of two friends who met at university in London in the early 1990s, went clubbing together and found the life they craved as the kids who “loved the pop hits and quoted the best bits”. Recalling the big city adventures of the Pet Shop Boys’ 1986 debut album, Please, the affectionate life lessons of their 1990 single Being Boring and the rhythms of early 90s house music, it’s a moving celebration of camaraderie through music.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are 30 years too late to title a song “Sad Robot Love.” After all it’s a sad robot world, and the Pet Shop Boys have been teaching us how to love it for most of our lifetimes. On their 13th studio album and second consecutive project produced by Stuart Price, the Boys put the kibosh on balladry, embracing electronic dance culture with the fervor of Ultra Music Festival attendees. They should not sound this enthused at this point in their careers.
English electronic duo Pet Shop Boys have had no problem growing with the times — or perhaps they were already ahead of their time when they debuted in the early 1980s. The fact is that contemporary trends in synth pop fit well with the long-established sound of the British heavy-hitters. The duo's 13th studio album, Super, will appeal to the cult following that's stuck with them over the years while reaffirming their continued relevance and influence.As Tennant sings on their first and appropriately named single, "The Pop Kids," "they call us the pop kids cause we love the pop hits," a perfect summary of Tennant and Chris Lowe's long-standing love affair with pop music, if there ever was one.
The Pet Shop Boys are unswayed by the argument that you shouldn't go chasing the glories of your past. Following their more meditative work in the 2000s, culminating with Release and Fundamental, which tackled the post-9/11 political climate as well as aging and heartbreak with uncharacteristic frankness, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have returned to the playful images and sounds associated with their '80s and '90s heyday. They've clearly found a match in producer Stuart Price, making the rare move to reteam with him for a second consecutive album: On both 2013's Electric and now Super, Price faithfully creates house and disco throwbacks while adding enough contemporary electronic flourishes to make them feel fresh.
"I’ve been a teenager since before you were born," Neil Tennant sang on "Young Offender" 23 years ago, a sigh of bravado. The Pet Shop Boys have persisted long enough that their return to club music feels calmly liberated, without any grasping for pop hits—why bother, when EDM already reclaimed that territory? They stood very still while ears craned towards them. 2012’s Elysium had the detachment of a wet stamp, but Electric, recorded with producer Stuart Price, pushed the beats ardently uptempo, the bass leaping between octaves.
Nostalgia is a powerful tool in today’s music market, selling things back to their original markets in repackaged form, pulling in later adopters along the way. Into this fray of reformations and homages drops a new album from the doggedly evergreen Pet Shop Boys. It arrives on the back of a single, The Pop Kids, that trades hard on warm, fuzzy feelings for clublands of yore – the 90s to be precise – and a symposium on their work at Edinburgh University, which recently sought to endow The Pet Shops Boys’ three-decade marriage of art to pop with the kind of highbrow love afforded to the likes of Bowie.
Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the Pet Shop Boys’ Nightlife as relying “more on craft than innovation.” The same could be said about their latest album, Super. The songs presented here don’t reflect any evolution of the group’s style, or sound, or even their approach to the medium. Rather, it almost comes off as if they are presenting the story of their entire existence as a dance pop band, from their subtle synthpop beginnings a la “West End Girls” up through 2013’s more straight up electro-dance maelstrom, Electric.
Perhaps the nadir of The Simpsons' decline is the 19th-season episode "That '90s Show," an anachronistic flashback episode that needlessly rewrites the history of the beloved show and its titular family..
For 3½ decades, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, collectively known as Pet Shop Boys, have honed a version of dance music that’s both all-encompassing and at a remove, social music for misfits that occasionally bubbled up to top-40 playlists — the keenly observant “West End Girls” hit No. 1 in 1986, while the wrenching Dusty Springfield collab “What Have I Done to Deserve This” reached No. 2.
If you’re a fan of a band who’ve recorded 12 albums, two B-side compilations, a ballet, film score and talking piece He Dreamed of Machines about Alan Turing, then you’ll need to ask what you hope for from their 13th. As with the pure electronics of, well, Electric, Super finds Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe reunited with Stuart Price in an ongoing response to 2012’s lushly reflective yet poorly received Elysium, which found the pop purveyors boldly facing their age. Electric sold well, so Super returns to these dance roots that Price evidently believes they belong to.
The new term "poptimism" describes the surprisingly positive reception for a kind of mainstream pop once considered déclassé by critics inclined to suppress their latent femininity and/or homosexuality by listening only to, say, music the CIA might use to torture suspected terrorists. Of course, there was poptimism long before it had a name, as evidenced by the 35-year existence of British duo Pet Shop Boys, who just released their 13th studio album, Super, and will perform it at the prestigious Royal Opera House in London over four nights in July. Few pop acts write about the joys of pop as effectively as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.