It’s not always easy to be objective about a new album release by one of your favorite artists. And I preface this by saying Pet Shop Boys have been one of my favorites, really only second to Prince, since their debut Please in 1986. Don’t let their lack of airplay in the States since the 90’s fool you, PSB have sold over 50 million records worldwide, are the UK’s most successful duo ever, and still consistently make noise in the U.S. on the dance/club play charts.
As with many veteran acts, the duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have seen their more recent albums fail to match the quality of their earlier works. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every album up through 2006’s Fundamental, overall it was an incredible nine album run of top notch pop music, but more recent albums started to contain a dud or two, with 2009’s Yes a low point for me. They rebounded last year with the reflective Elysium, an album some mistook as their swan song, but even that album had a few less than stellar songs in its second half. As solid as the majority of Elysium was, nothing could prepare me for what their new album Electric holds.
There is always a segment of PSB’s fan base that is disappointed when the band ventures into non-dance music territory. That was one of the reasons Elysium was met with a lukewarm response. That is part of what has endeared Pet Shop Boys to me, they have refused to be pigeonholed and albums like Release, which featured mostly live instrumentation, were welcome forays into different sounds. But I certainly can’t deny an all-out electronic dance album from one of the legendary acts of the genre is welcome, and Electric is a smashing album in every way. For those disappointed that Daft Punk didn’t deliver the dance album of the year, here is what you’ve been missing.
Electric sounds both current, yet retains that signature Pet Shop Boys sound and much credit for that goes to producer Stuart Price. Much like Mark Ronson did for Duran Duran on their last album, Price helps guide Tennant and Lowe back to what they do best. Pet Shop Boys have always been a pop band at heart and tracks like “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct”, one of Tennant’s wittiest lyrics in years, and “Thursday”, an ear worm of a song if ever there was one, are perfect pop concoctions. I shuddered when I saw British rapper Example was featured on “Thursday”, but his verse even works adding to the retro vibe of the song. This is the track that most sounds like it could fit on one of the duo’s early 90’s albums and it absolutely must be a single.
But even the pop songs here are designed to get you on the dance floor. And for dance music legends like Pet Shop Boys, it is nice to have a full album devoted to that goal. Opener “Axis” and “Shouting In The Evening” are largely instrumentals, “Fluorescent” is fiendishly dark yet boasts a killer groove, and then there’s the Springsteen cover. PSB turn Bruce’s “The Last To Die” into a synth drenched dance track, but it retains the somber tone of the subject matter. It’s a wonderful version done with sincerity, minus the winking sarcasm of past covers of the likes of U2.
As catchy as the chorus of “Bolshy” is, I can’t get enough of the break down about half way through. A solid dance-pop track suddenly melds into storming house music, a reminder of this band’s mastery and experimentation with just about every form of electronic music over their career. “Inside A Dream” is my personal favorite, and on an album this good it was tough to choose. That synth line, those beats and claps, the soaring chorus, this may just be my favorite dance track of 2013.
Electric closes with its first single “Vocal” and it sums up my feelings about the album perfectly. “I like the people, I like the song. This is my kind of music, they play it all night long”, Tennant sings before the song goes into dance overdrive. It’s no surprise they are closing their current tour with this track, it’s a fitting end to a concert and a great album. Yes, I love the introspective and orchestral side of Pet Shop Boys as well. But sometimes you just want to dance and with the help of Stuart Price they’ve created their best album since Very, and one of 2013’s best, period.