The veteran duo mine their glorious past and pump up the bangers to prove they’re still electro-pop masters
Pet Shop Boys’ defining era, their self-described “imperial phase”, began nearly 20 years ago. They owned it in ridiculous style. Show me a band with a better run of singles than their first 10 and I’ll show you the list of theirs again, point to ‘Left To My Own Devices’, ‘Rent’ and ‘Suburbia’, then sing you the rest in painstaking detail. You’ll never speak to me again, but I’ll be right.
‘Electric’, Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant’s difficult 12th album, walks a perilous path. It wholeheartedly embraces current dance music, but when you’re synth-pop deities with a combined age of 112, there’s a danger of looking like your funny uncle and his extremely quiet mate pretending to enjoy Skrillex.
After last year’s downbeat ‘Elysium’, this time round Pet Shop Boys have gone gigantic and written some bangers with producer Stuart Price (The Killers, Kylie, Madonna). They succeed because age has not dimmed their ability to do a number of things impeccably, including subtly referencing their glorious past.
The yearning keyboards towards the end of opener ‘Axis’ – a euphoric, towering techno workout – hark back as far as ‘Why Don’t We Live Together?’ from debut album ‘Please’. ‘Thursday’, with a guest appearance from Example, begins with a resurrection of the tragic synth wash of ‘West End Girls’ before unfolding into an irresistible disco explosion like the best parts of 1999’s underrated ‘Nightlife’. ‘Bolshy’ embraces the upbeat pop-house drums of a Livin’ Joy record and keyboards from a forgotten Utopia. ‘Shouting In The Evening’ is a bold fist-pumping maniac, ‘Fluorescent’’s deep banks of laser-flanked synths harbour a creeping gloom, and there’s a cover of Bruce Springsteen obscurity ‘The Last To Die’. Because they can.
It wouldn’t be a post-1993 PSB album without one honking clanger though, and it’s ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’, a reasonable Morrissey song title strapped to a sample of composer Michael Nyman’s ‘Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds’. Tennant’s messy lyrics about banker bonuses and drinking tea are backed by hi-NRG enthusiasm, but the major-key melodies are stacked up too high and it sounds sickly.
Tennant is usually a master of precise, careful description, but on ‘Electric’ he allows himself to be more slippery, using sparing words to conjure moods to accompany the embarrassing number of incredibly catchy musical elements. More than anything, the Boys thrive as a pop band. It’s hard to imagine anything here dominating the charts like their ’80s output, but that doesn’t make ‘Electric’ any less tremendous. Huge. Tasteful. Funny. Touching. Direct. Clever. As an exercise is sounding totally, defiantly alive, it is a complete success.