Despite the grandiose celestial connotations of its title, Pet Shop Boys’ previous 2012 effort Elysium – their final album with Parlophone – was a dull and vapid affair, salvaged only by the relative brilliance of two standout tracks: Leaving, and Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin. It’s difficult to say this of a duo that are effectively an English institution – but it sounded like the phoned-in effort of meagre middle-aged men making middling mid-tempo electro-pop, and looked like it might have heralded an ignominious end to a colossal and sprawling synth-pop career.
Not so. In a year already dominated by titanic dance efforts – Daft Punk, Disclosure, Mount Kimbie – Pet Shop Boys have returned, re-energised and re-invigorated, with a jewel-encrusted love letter to the dancefloor that can at least stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the aforementioned 2013 dance heavy-hitters.
Appropriately titled opening track Axis is a semi-instrumental number, the name starkly conveying that it’s the music that is the beating heart of every track on this album. It’s a perfectly consummated marriage of euphoric electro and sweeping synths wrapped around a pounding 80s disco beat. Three minutes in and you’ll have forgiven them for every mis-step on Elysium.
Stuart Price, who has worked with Madonna, The Killers and Kylie, continues his trend of helping perfect the right balance of mood and melody, and is on electrifying form throughout – whether masterminding the rising luminescent dread of Phosphorescent or the crescendoing high-energy euphoria of Vocal. As can be expected from eminent musical intellectuals Tennant and Lowe it’s at-times cerebral affair, quoting William Blake ( “The land of dreams is better far/ Above the light of the morning star…” on the glorious Kraftwerk-esque Inside A Dream) and critiquing amorous affection as a conformist and ultimately fictitious notion (on Love is a Bourgeois Construct). It’s characteristially Pet Shop Boys tongue-in-cheek though, nowhere more-so then when the narrator of Love is a Bourgeois Construct concludes that he’s only giving up on amour until he reunites with his old flame (“Love is just a bourgeois construct/ So give it up, the bourgeoisie/ Until you come back to me…)
For all its dance trappings, Electric is ultimately a pop record – just one so in love with shaking its booty on the dancefloor that it should come with a RATED R sticker. It’s surprising, coming so soon after their last album, but it makes up for all of Elysium’s shortcomings. It’s as if, realising that the syth-pop revival is in full swing, they’ve pulled out all the stops to make sure that they’re ahead of the curve in a scene that they helped define. And thank god, becuase it’s resulted in an uncompromising and sumptuous pop opus every bit as exceptional as it is unexpected.
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