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The Boys are back in town
on 14 July 2013
While last year's "Elysium" was downtempo, world-weary and a bit of a revisiting of well-trodden PSB territory, "Electric" - produced by dance wunderkind Stuart Price - is that album's antithesis: it's uptempo, energetic and fresh-sounding.
The opener to the album is really a statement of intent, without the usual verse/chorus structure we've come to expect from the Boys, and in fact featuring hardly any vocals at all. The message is clear: this is no ordinary PSB studio album. It's a great - if slightly overlong - start.
Interlaced with lines spoken in Russian (probably an allusion to the derivation of the word "bolshy"), we get to hear Neil Tennant singing for the first time on the album. Halfway through there's a dream of a breakdown that features the kind of cowbells, handclaps and orchestral hits that might have come straight from the Phil Harding remix of "Always On My Mind" circa 1987. A brilliantly catchy track.
3. "Love Is A Bourgeois Construct"
This track is backdropped against a Purcell melody that'll be instantly recognisable to virtually everyone (Michael Nyman also used this melody in his soundtrack to The Draughtsman's Contract). Like most PSB songs based on classical compositions, it doesn't quite work, but it's still highly enjoyable nonetheless.
With a sample of what sounds like someone grunting for a snare drum and banks of wibbling synthesisers that constantly threaten to wibble off key, "Fluorescent" is gloriously sleazy-sounding. Tennant sings about a person's beauty and fame, and how both are destined - just like a fluorescent light bulb - not to last forever. Along the way he manages to rhyme "mark" with "oligarch".
5. "Inside A Dream"
The previous track's less sleazy sibling, "Inside A Dream" is a sublime track with a spritely bassline and a percussion sound that might have been lifted straight from Mel & Kim's "Showing Out". There's something indefinably wonderful - dreamy, even - about this song.
6. "The Last To Die"
The only track on the album not written by Tennant and Lowe, this is probably the strongest song on the album, and a testament to Bruce Springsteen's songwriting skills. It somehow manages to be both euphoric and heartbreaking at the same time, and is reminiscent of "Human" by The Killers (also produced by Stuart Price).
7. "Shouting In The Evening"
This track is light on vocals, and is really just based around a single synth riff - but what a riff! Hi-energy, pounding, infectious: that riff would get any club going. My only complaint is that the track goes out with a whimper rather than the bang it deserves.
"Thursday" has the same kind of bassline and synth pads as the Boys' first ever hit "West End Girls" 28(!) years ago. "I wanna know you're gonna stay for the weekend," sings Tennant, followed by Chris Lowe listing the days of the week from Thursday to Sunday. Then up pops Example, whose rapping/singing style suits the song to a T.
The first "proper" single from the album, "Vocal" is an ode to nightclubbing that, suitably enough, is in the generic style of a clubbing track. The melody - or the vocal - lifts it above the average club fodder though, and, as ever, Tennant's voice sounds so right laid on top of an electro dance track.
This is the best Pet Shop Boys album since 1993's "Very", and the most exciting since 1988's "Introspective". You have to wonder whether it's been made possible by the Boys' departure from Parlophone, a label who'd possibly been demanding "Radio 2-friendliness" ever since the Boys' records were dropped from Radio 1's playlists (if so, those same record company execs will be flagellating themselves with their own rulebooks when they hear this album). Or maybe the Boys are just overly fond of coming up with lush, middle-of-the-road ballads.
Either way, it's the energetic tracks that made the Pet Shop Boys' name. I'll never forget the first time I heard the over-the-top thunderousness of "It's A Sin", nor the first time I heard an old Elvis ballad transformed into a joyous show-stopper. "Electric" has the same kind of feel to it, and I can imagine it becoming the soundtrack to summer 2013 for many people. It's been a long time coming, but the Pet Shop Boys are back on top form.