on 11 September 2012
If I mention Pet Shop Boys to friends, I often get the reply "are they still going?". "Elysium" is a strong PSB album that occasionally alludes to this ( pretty much head-on in the case of Your Early Stuff, with it's background refrain of "hey, what's your name?"). London 2012 undoubtedly gave them their biggest platform for years, and the single Winner plugs straight into the Olympics spirit with a rather typical PSB kind of arrangement, even If it is a rather atypical PSB bit of songwriting. But elsewhere, "Elysium" is a much more laid-back, tranquil and mature album than the single suggests. It makes a good companion to "Yes", rather like "Behaviour" following "Actually" in a way. Like "Behaviour", this is a reflective, wistful album - autumnal if you like - with a fair bit of acoustic guitar, orchestra and self-examination in the mix. Not uncommon territory for the Boys, of course, but less wrist-slittingly gloomy than some of the stuff off "Fundamental" (i.e. Numb, and the lyrics of I made my Excuses and Left).
"Elysium" gets off to strong start with Leaving, a catchy, hook-laden song about the death of Love, complete with a quick homage to the samples used on Heart twenty five years earlier. Standout track in many ways though is the second cut Invisible. It probably has the most interesting electronica arrangement on the CD for a start, which might well reflect the involvement of producer Andrew Dawson. Let's face it, PSB are a good synth-pop band but not supreme synth stylists like, say, Vince Clarke or Orbital. This is reflected by what IMHO is the most ordinary track in this collection, A Face Like That. It's got a dated 80s sequencer sound for a start and recalls the version of Young Offender off "Very", which plodded rather than soared, unlike the Jam & Spoon 12" remix of that song. Lyrically rather ordinary and swamped with birdsong and thunder effects, it would have made a good B-side to the Winner single, swapping place with the excellent A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi". But back to Invisible, which lyrically is superb. Another one of PSB's codified gay songs, Invisible addresses the situation that many gay men find as they get older, suddenly apparently too old to be seen in clubs and ignored by the younger generation around them (so much for solidarity!). Similarly, Give It A Go, all piano-led bossa nova, is Neil's plea to a (younger?) beau, with plea being the operative word -"for all we know/there's not much time left ... I'm not saying that you cant find/someone better, oh no/but in the meantime why not give it a go". Its possibly the first PSB song to feature accordian too and a little cracker. The next song, Memory of the Future, continues the theme ("its taken me all of my life/to find you") set to a more typical PSB sequencer-led disco beat (but much less irritating than A Face Like That). If you want to be pedantic, these are themes visited not infrequently on PSB albums, but they're well executed here. None more so than the rousing disco closer, Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin, which like Being Boring seems to deal with that hedonistic period before AIDS cast a long shadow over the scene. The good and great of the late 70s are name checked with breathtaking speed - Ferry, McLaren, Rotten, clothes stores Let It Rock, Biba and Johnsons, queer film-maker Derek Jarman and designer Ossie Clark - to an uplifting melody which references the horns of New York City Boy, which of course itself referenced a parallel period in NYCs history. Possibly musically the most upbeat end to a PSB album since "Nightlife ", it ends with the sound of a motorcycle, which as Chris Bohn pointed out in a review elsewhere, equates with death in pop music (think Leader of the Pack). So we come full circle.
There's also a sense of deja vu (but in a good way) with Ego Music, which casts withering scorn on popstars who have a well-honed public persona & social conscience to match ("And of course, I've always had a humanitarian vision...Ego Music/It's all about vacuous slogans, innocuous sentiment"). A spritely unusual number, it wouldn't have been out of place on "Actually", following Hit Music or Shopping. Of course, this is also well- trodden PSB territory as in How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously & Electricity. maybe Neil has some other Olympian performers in mind. It is followed by the real oddity on this PSB album, Hold On, which as other reviewers have mentioned, sounds rather Broadway Musical in its execution. Oddly uplifting, but it works for me. Maybe the dynamic duo have another theatrical experience up their sleeves? So 50 minutes of good PSB music overall, and a star taken away for covering old lyrical ground. It wont mean a thing to people under 30 I'd guess, or those who lost touch with PSB in the early 90s when they got " too gay" (Hallo FM America!), nor my partner (an Erasure fan) who says they only have one song, but should please their long-time companions very well. Actually.