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I've been trying to think of which Pet Shop Boys albums are better than this one. Maybe Behaviour; Very, possibly; Actually, Yes (and now I'm confused...). The point is, these guys make it so difficult to choose. But for almost any other pop band around today, you could easily say that Elysium would be their masterpiece.
A group that's been around as longs as PSBs simply has to be winding down by now, trading on former glories - but Elysium sounds almost like a band that's just getting started. I say almost, because while a debut album might sound as fresh and original as this one, it could never have such a complex depth of character (and if that makes it sound like a fine wine, then, good).
I won't do a song-by-song breakdown, as I think one of the most remarkable things about this album is the way it flows together, both sonically and thematically. It's hard to say exactly how this happens, as there are no actual segues and all the songs sound very different from each other; the closest I can get to it is that many songs seem to `trigger' the next. A good example of this is `Your Early Stuff' (title speaks for itself) which kicks into `A Face Like That', a floor-shaking nod to their disco roots with a synth hook marginally smaller than The Shard. Within the songs too, the production is their smoothest ever, positively shimmering with ethereal sounds, and Neil Tennant's voice has never sounded better, or more expressive.
Even songs that I didn't like initially have won me over - `Winner' being the biggest case in point. At first hearing I assumed (as perhaps many have) it was a glib Olympics bandwagon number; but I couldn't have been more wrong. Sure, it can be about the Games if you want it to be; but suppose for a moment that it's about something else (a relationship, say) and suddenly it's far more convincingly a Pet Shop Boys song. I don't think it's about London 2012 any more than `Indefinite Leave To Remain' was about immigration... (but I will admit to getting Olympics montages in my head when I hear it). It's also telling how the song's euphoria carries more than a dash of melancholy, too.
My favourite song? It keeps changing, but the moment it's `Give It A Go'. An upbeat, lighthearted, almost humorous number, which for some strange reason makes me cry. That pretty much sums up what makes Elysium so special. Give it a go.Read more ›
I'm not one of those people who thinks that the Pet Shop Boys' fantastic early output is all there is to them. I find that their career has been one of the most consistently rewarding in modern pop, with plenty of winsome moments in each phase. I say this because a lot of reviews here tend to give Elysium a hard time because it "can't hold a candle to *insert preferred Pet Shop Boys album here*", or something like that. While the Boys' latest offering isn't up there with what I consider to be their best work (Behaviour, Very, Fundamental), it is nevertheless a welcome addition to their catalogue, as accomplished and rewarding an album as any of the ones that preceded it, granted, of course, you're open to what it has to offer.
Neil Tennant has said that he considers Elysium "the Pet Shop Boys' most beautiful album", and indeed, there's a very luxurious, serene quality to a lot of the songs here. The arrangements are more sparse and roomy than, say, the ones on their previous record (the much more typically poppy Yes) and the songs here have much more, well, "Breathing space" so to speak. The leisurely tempo and relative absence of bright flashes of colour mean that a lot of the songs tend to lump together upon the first few listens. Indeed, the only one that stands out right off the bat is "A face like that", tense and busy not unlike their 80's work (those who like their PSB anthemic and dancey, be warned: this is the only song here paced to quicken your pulse). But, each repeated listen is rewarded as the pasty facade of the songs peels away, revealing the subtle production touches and an unexpected warmth that comes with the subdued production choices. Tennant is in fine voice throughout. His lyrics take a dip occasionally (the "Catch the bouquet/Let's tie the knot now" bit from "Give it a go" is kind of an eye-roller), but such moments are in the minority.
It's not perfect of course, not by any means. "Your early stuff" spends its' brief two-and-a-half minutes teasing the listener that it might just shape itself into something meaningful, or at least funny, but it just ends up sounding drab to these ears. Then there's "Hold on", the absolute nadir of the album as far as this reviewer is concerned, an overblown attempt at an uplifter that has all the conviction of those "Hang in there kitty" motivational posters. All is forgiven though, for these missteps are surrounded by the tranquil beauty of "Leaving" and "Invisible", the snarky, biting "Ego music" (a parody of self-obsessed celebrity that is home to some of the album's most hilarious lines), the wistful, vintage sounding "Give it a go" and the gorgeous "Memory of the future". "Requiem in denim and leopardskin" closes Elysium on a bittersweet, yet oddly celebratory note, a kind of breezy lounge/disco number that picks up its' storytelling cues from "Being boring" and takes it from there into album highlight territory.
What we have here, then, is a Pet Shop Boys album that sounds "different", not from their signature sound (assuming, of course, they have one; after all, each of their albums was "different" compared to the previous one) but rather from what's percieved (better yet, expected) as their signature sound. It's true that PSB are about the big, stomping, tongue-in-cheek pop hits. But they're also about the downtempo moments, the darker meditations on life and love, the elegant and spacey ballads (wasn't that the point with Behaviour and Release?). Elysium is a perfectly solid showcase of the softer side of one of the best contemporary pop acts, flaws and all. That it's not their "best" or "definitive" artistic statement is a moot point; it is what it is, and it's here to enjoy for anyone willing to give it a chance.Read more ›
I've been a Johnny come lately to Pet Shop Boys. I really only started buying their albums from 'Release' which came out in 2002 and completely changed my mind about them. I'd just thought of them as a great pop singles band. Since then I've been a big fan of all their subsequent albums and many of the earlier ones. I'm not a fan of dance music but I am a huge devotee of perfect pop and the last decade of perfect pop has been ruled by PSB in my opinion.
I was excited about the new album but I'm slightly disappointed now I have it. It's a real hit and miss affair and while it has one of their best ever tracks in 'Invisible' it also has one of their worst in 'Give It A Go' and really 'Winner' doesn't stand repeated listening. They seem a bit short of ideas sadly.
'Yes' is the best album in my opinion if perfect pop is your bag. This album has some lovely moments and a warm sound but it'd make a better E.P. I think.
In which the Pet Shop Boys produce, if not the best album of their career, then one that is certainly amongst their top three.
Elysium finds PSB in their role of the elder statesmen of pop, viewing the world from the afterlife of mainstream chart success. It's by turns regretful, nostalgic hopeful, and cutting.
Initial reactions: it seems musically disjointed. Tracks seem to clash rather than flow. Subsequent listens reveal that, actually, it's superbly sequenced. The optimism of Memory of the Future turns to the frankly sinister Everything Means Something; the withering Ego Music gives way to the Broadway tinged positivity (or is it desperation?) of Hold On. It's an album of deliberate contrasts of mood.
Temporarily at least, they've abandoned the everything including the kitchen sink direction of old. This is music that's full of space, simultaneously stripped down and lush, and with a newly discovered sense of restraint. At least some of the credit for this must go to producer Andrew Dawson. He provides what the PSB have needed for a considerable time, namely a production style that sounds modern, without overwhelming the character of the music.
Some highlights: Breathing Space is almost overwhelmingly beautiful, and emotionally devastating. Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin conjures up the ghosts of Being Boring, being both elegy and celebration at the same time. Everything Means Something could almost be hewn from the textures of Bowie's "Heroes", with it's grinding, complex timestructures. Leaving (the next single) seems almost slight initially, but then burrows its way into your brain and manages to conjure a bittersweet mixture of fond memories and loss ("Our love is dead/but the dead are still alive".)
In short, this is the sound of PSB abandoning preconceptions of what they are expected to sound like, and doing exectly what they please. They've tried this before, with mixed results ("Bilingual", "Release"), but this is the grand slam. This will probably draw the ire of those who love the Boys' music to be uptempo and dance driven, and as such it's unlikely to match the commercial success of Yes. On an artistic level, however, this is one of their finest works, and deserves a wider audience than it will probably attract.Read more ›