Monday, July 22, 2013

Album Review: Pet Shop Boys - Electric

Pet Shop Boys
Rating: Woof Daddy

Last year's record from the Pet Shop Boys, Elysium, their final record for longtime label Parlaphone, felt like a death knell for the venerable pop duo. Full of lyrics about fading away and aging, the dour atmosphere of the record was a far cry from their more upbeat and fun records. So it was a surprise when they announced the quick follow up to that record, Electric. Promised as a return to their dance roots, the boys enlisted the help of producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Killers) who knows his way around a dancefloor. Over these 9 club friendly tracks, Electric pulses and swoons with dark beats and majestic synths, harking back to their glorious dancefloor masterpiece Introspective. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe seem incredibly inspired this go around, turning out their best record since Very, and while it is not as eclectic, its sleek and consistent tone more than atone for it.

Anticipation was high for the record back when they released the teaser track "Axis" a driving dance track full of rising beds of synth washes and keyboard melodies over a thumping base of beats and vocodered vocals.

And finally this anticipation was more than warranted as the record takes off from this track and never hits a low point. Highlights are many and plenty, from the dark, sinister electro of "Fluorescent" with its claustrophobic beats and weird, wonky electronics,

pop perfection of fun single "Thursday,"

or brilliant closing single "Vocal" which might be one of their best tracks ever, a gorgeous anthem that should fill dancefloors all year long.

Of course, this wouldn't be a PSB album without some wry commentary and arch tone. The "Left to My Own Devices" winking track "Love Is A Bourgeois Construct" features some of Tennant's most acerbic lyrics like "I'll explore the outer limits of boredom/Moaning periodically," while bouncing along to a sample from Michael Nyman's main theme from Peter Greenaway's film The Draughtsman's Contract.

And again they come up with another brilliant cover along the lines of "Always On My Mind" or "Where The Streets Have No Name" taking on Bruce Springsteen's "The Last To Die," turning the focus from a broader view of post-Iraq futility to a more intimate, suffocating view of post-breakup relationships.

Electric is not necessarily a return to form for PSB, as they really have never put out a horrible record in the past few years. While Elysium was a bit of a disappointment, it was not an embarrassment by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes it takes looking back at one's strengths and working off that base to return to what works best. Electric is neither a rehash of old glories nor a venture off into modern dance music, and for that I am thankful. It is simply the Pet Shop Boys putting out their best record years, showing that they still have love and affection for what they do, and for what they do well.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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