Pet Shop Boys aim for imperiousness

Gary Page gives his verdict on the new outing from Pet Shop Boys:

Back in the late 1980s, as I struggled through the early, awkward stages of high school, I was a keen consumer of the pop music of the day. There was one band who seemed to stand out from all the other preening, blow-dried pop stars and existed in their own world. The Pet Shop Boys would constantly release effortlessly brilliant singles that hit the upper reaches of the chart. The band members, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, have subsequently referred to this period as their “imperious” stage – songs like It’s a Sin, Heart and Domino Dancing consolidated an already established ability to craft intelligent, sad, ironic dance music that began in 1985 with West End Girls. From a bedroom in England, listening on an old cassette, I was totally absorbed in to their world. Lots of water has passed under the bridge since then so, if you remain uninitiated, check out their many greatest hits compilations and you’ll soon be up to speed.

We’re now in 2012, whether we like it or not, and the band have unleashed new album, Elysium, on the world. The record was produced in L.A. with Kanye’s producer-in-chief Andrew Dawson but, as soon as you hear the first few synth chords of Elysium‘s opening track, Leaving, you’re not in Los Angeles, you’re transported to that familiar world of the Pet Shop Boys.

Leaving and second song Invisible fit snugly into the sound of 1990’s album Behaviour, which is thought by many, including Robbie Williams and myself, to be one of the finest British albums of the last 25 years. Invisible is the Pet Shop Boys ruminating on their advancing years and the anonymity many feel as their looks and youth start to fade. “After being for so many years the life and soul of the party, it’s weird, I’m invisible”

The brilliant but sedate and sobering opening to the album soon makes way for more upbeat tracks including Winner – recently released to coincide with the Olympic games in London. Winner is an attempt to create an inspirational and uplifting tune but falls a bit flat on musical and lyrical levels. Slightly more successful is Your Early Stuff, a wry look back at former glories and the expectations and trials of sticking around for 30 years. The sound has a pulsating, Hot Chip feel, but the lyrics are trying too hard to hit that ironic note that was achieved more successfully on Yesterday, When I Was Mad in 1993.

Elysium offers many familiar delights to old fans and there are also a few surprises along the way that work to varying degrees. Give It A Go has a Northern Soul stomp that sounds scarily like a track from Duffy’s million-selling album Rockferry. The album closes with Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin, a flamboyantly exotic song that is reminiscent of the band’s successful collaborations with Dusty Springfield in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Elysium may not be as “imperious” as their late 1980’s work, but the duo still show flashes of brilliance to confirm that all their best work is not just confined to their “early stuff”.


Review by Gary Page