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Pet Shop Boys: Electric (2013)

July 9, 2013

pet shop boys electric

Roll: N/A, obligatory PSB review
Album: Pet Shop Boys, Electric

Usually with a new Pet Shop Boys album, what I end up doing is after an initial few listens is I make an alternative playlist with the best four or five songs, the best of the (usually superior) b-sides and a few remixes I prefer to the album versions. I’ve done that with every album since Release (2002). They basically did that themselves with Release on Disco 3 (2003), actually.

Electric appears to be the first album in years I won’t have to do that with as it sounds, more or less, like one of my own custom versions.

But there’s just no pleasing some people.

Now that PSB have finally delivered the hardcore techno/house record I’d been begging for, I’m wondering where the songs are.

It comes off a bit like a compilation of the best fillers from their first four albums might. Which, at worst, makes it a pretty damn fantastic synth-pop record.

In many ways it bears the closest similarity to Relentless, the bonus EP that came packaged with initial deluxe versions of Very (1993). Fans loved it because it was an experimental club-oriented alternative to the main album’s radio-oriented pop. Any lack of “pop” on Relentless could be overlooked since Very simultaneously dished it out in spades.

There is no Very to accompany Electric.

Not that there necessarily needs to be. The album is choc-a-bloc with bona fide thumpers—exactly like what the doctor ordered. Yet even on their spottiest albums, there’s at least two or three out-of-the-park winners (pun not intended) just from a songwriting perspective.

Fundamental (2006) had “Minimal” and “Integral“, Yes (2009) had “Did You See Me Coming” and “The Way It Used To Be“, and Elysium (2012) had “Leaving” and “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin“—all songs that rank with the best of the Tennant/Lowe songbook. While there’s some great tunes on Electric, there’s no spectacular tunes.

That said, Electric is their first album since Nightlife (1999) that, after a few complete run-throughs, I can listen to with skipping three or more tracks. Which should be expected considering there’s no room for fat with only nine songs.

A quick track-by-track run-down:

1. Axis: The semi-instrumental intro track. Very Kraftwerky, very retro. So retro it might have sounded a bit old-fashioned in 1986 even (not a criticism). It’s feels almost like an overture to a musical or ballet about robots so it’s a perfect tone-setter for the album.

2. Bolshy: Not sure what they’re trying to say with this song. Hooking up on the dance floor with a communist or something?  Is that a metaphor? Whatever it is, it’s the signature PSB combo of intellectual themes and straight-up dance beats. Bit of an acid-house feel.

3. Love Is A Bourgeois Construct: Ditto on the “combo of intellectual themes and straight-up dance beats.” Sticking with the Marxist rhetoric of the previous track, it sounds like something that might have been a too-intellectual-not-pop-enough b-side in the nineties. Kind of nerdy. In some ways, this is the most Pet Shop Boys thing they’ve done since Bilingual (1996). The men’s chorus à laGo West” is a real “give the fans what they want” moment. Almost too melodic in it’s own anthemic way.

4. Fluorescent: An example of a brilliant PSB-side. Fuzzy techno that sits somewhere between “Minimal” and their stellar Fundamental era b-side “Blue On Blue“. Could almost have fit on Please (1986) or have been a b-side from their 2003 non-album singles “Miracles” and “Flamboyant“. One of my favourite tunes on the album.

5. Inside A Dream: Also a bit like “Minimal”, the rolling bassline reminds me of “Left To My Own Devices” which isn’t a bad thing. There’s a classic early-PSB chime hook.

6. The Last To Die: The albums only misstep in my opinion. Sort of a victim of the Coldplayization of pop music. Reminds me of PSB’s cover of “Vida La Vida” from their Christmas EP (2009). My only “skipper”.

7.  Shouting In The Evening: The vocal effect is really odd sounding, but in a mostly good way. Pretty hardcore techno song. More relentless than Relentless. Sounds like one of their Yes remixes, which is a good thing.

8. Thursday: The same basic beat and (perhaps exact same) chord progression as “Loves Comes Quickly” (1986). Intentional? Ironic? Nonetheless, a really good Hi-NRG disco track—complete with a classic Chris Lowe “counting” vocal—that’s not quite as good as “Love Comes Quickly”.

9. Vocal: A nice ode to themselves, it seems. “I like the singer/He’s lonely and strange” sounds a lot like Neil Tennant is singing about Neil Tennant. Which is fine, but humourous. The chord progression/bassline sounds a lot like their 1989 hit “It’s Alright” but like a mid-90’s techno remix with some intense synth stabs. Not the kind of  song you get tired of. Repeat worthy. Sort of an abrupt end to the set though, making Electric feel more like a playlist than an album.

Aside from slightly relentless (again, pun not intended) intensity, my main criticism of Electric isn’t a criticism of Electric at all, but rather of the Andrew Dawson produced Elysium. It’s really too bad that Elysium‘s best material hadn’t been recorded in these sessions with Stuart Price.

If “Memories of the Future“, “Requiem”, “Leaving” and maybe even “A Face Like That” and “Your Early Stuff” took the place of “The Last To Die”, you’d have, hands down, one of PSB’s best 13 track albums with all the changes in dynamics, texture and mood that made Please through Nightlife pop masterpieces.

But don’t take my word for it, Electric is streaming HERE. Listen for yourself.

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