Ten months ago, the Pet Shop Boys were showing their age on their most mellow, mature album to date.
PET SHOP BOYS
Star rating: * * *
Chris Lowe went so far as to refer to Elysium as “the infirm album”. But now it transpires that all the time he and Neil Tennant were itching to swap their slippers for their dancing shoes. If Elysium was the reflective comedown, Electric is the flashback to the party which preceded.
It’s also the first album on their own label following an almost 30-year relationship with Parlophone, though they have hardly stretched their wings in choosing to work with Madonna/Kylie producer Stuart Price. Like Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, their collaboration is a streamlined club album, characterised by cascading synths and meaty beats but with pockets of the valued PSB idiosyncrasy.
Taster track Axis sets the tone for much of the rest of the album with its epic synth chords, hint of a hi-NRG rhythm and synthesized vocal lines intoning about “electric energy”. But not everything that follows is as satisfying as this late 1970s electro odyssey.
Bolshy sounds like the remix rather than the song, carved out of a shimmering synth refrain, a tabla loop and Tennant toying with the title. Shouting in the Evening is a PSB twist on happy hardcore, with mangled, pitch-shifted vocals, face-chewing breakbeats and a silly hook – “what a feeling, shouting in the evening” – which one would like to think is a nod to Lionel Richie. Example pops up for a superfluous guest rap on Thursday, a decent song about the new Friday, while closing track Vocal is the bangingest banger of them all.
There are at least vestiges of their own signature running through these tracks, but they only really assert their personality on a couple of occasions. Love is a Bourgeois Construct – possibly the most Pet Shop Boys title of all time – makes chirpy work of the Purcell theme used by Michael Nyman in Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds and layers on a camp, stentorian male chorus behind a witty first-person lyric about a jilted spouse released into a life of slobbery. They also do a trademark number on The Last to Die, a lesser-known Bruce Springsteen song, which is faithful to the original’s weary melancholy, and little else.