“BANGING”. If there’s a word that best describes Pet Shop Boys’ 12th album it’s “BANGING”. Possibly with an exclamation mark. Last year’s beautifully autumnal yet sadly underrated Elysium may’ve suggested Neil “Chilly T” Tennant and Chris “Chris” Lowe – both now fiftysomethings – were ready to bide their twilight years in relative tranquillity, their status as “Eccentric National Treasures” assured. But hearing Electric it’s apparent they were merely catching their breath, finishing their Earl Grey and watching the (cough) “EDM” outbreak with wry amusement whilst waiting for the real party to begin. Yet what’s most surprising about Electric isn’t how stellar it is – Pet Shop Boys’ 30 year back catalogue holds an embarrassment of riches – it’s how much they’re really, properly, “FULL ON” up for it. Fetch your dancing trousers, we’re doing an all-nighter.
Whether it’s a counter-reaction to the serene Elysium, cutting the apron strings from their major label momma or the va-va-voom of new producer Stuart Price (Killers, Madonna, Kylie) but Electric sounds like a band reborn. Youthful but worldly-smart, melodic but experimental and ripe with musical flourish and fancy. There are potential Übersmashes, yet many of the nine tracks giggle in the face of traditional ‘verse-chorus-verse’ pop structure. From first note to last, there’s a palpable air of giddy unchained abandon. The almost instrumental opener “Axis” may’ve mildly underwhelmed on ‘taster’ release, but, in context, it generates more spark as an appetising entrée, a step into the slipstream. “Turn it up,” whispers Tennant over Kraftwerk machina synths, Hi-NRG bass and KLF strobes. Like much of Electric, it teases, steadily upgrading the wizardry to the point where Lowe is seemingly tickling several dozen synths, octopus hands a-go-go. Less a song, more a statement of intent, “Booty Shakin’ Space Discotheque Shenanigans – This Way”.
From herein, it’s relentlessly, ridiculously rowdy. The beach ball bouncy “Bolshy” is pure Ibiza ‘88 and blessed with the kind of deliciously daft and infectious chorus (basically “Bolshy, bolshy, bolshy, OH!”) that once heard can never be unheard. House piano, crystalline xylophone and “Bolshevik” Soviet soundbites, it could’ve lounged effortlessly under the blazin’ Balearic skies of New Order’s Technique album. At one point it spirals into an acieeed trance breakdown worthy of A Guy Called Gerald before a perfectly timed solitary ” ... OH!” whips us back to the chorus like a fairground spin on the Waltzers. The sunny “Bolshy” pales beside album highlight “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” though. It sews a loop from Michael Nyman’s grandiose score to Peter Green’s 1982 murder mystery The Draughtman’s Contract with a yarn of midsummer madness to craft a luxuriously louche Studio 54 floorfiller. Wildly theatrical but classically cool with Last Night of the Proms gusto, rousing male voice choir, laugh out loud lyrics and a seam of romantic desperation. It’s vintage PSB. Its hapless narrator is a disillusioned toff taken to exploring “the outer limits of boredom”, “dossing” with the “local riff-raff” and pining for his lost love. The final pay-off is a Cupid’s assassination and should this seven-minute epic be nip n’ tucked for radio it would surely be a Euro-enormohit for several millennia. ‘Tis a Triumph.
This nightlife takes a darker turn on “Fluorescent”. Simmering basement club electro which rewires Visage’s “Fade to Grey” with Raze’s “Break 4 Love” to sultry, schmokin’ effect. Neon searchlights spin n’ roll as Tennant observes from afar, “You’ve been living in a looking glass scene / Since you were 17.” Laced with scandalous whisper and with samples of satisfied sighs providing rhythmic swing it’s hot enough to steam up your glasses. “At midnight it’s time for business.” Crikey. The slick stomp of “Inside a Dream” keeps the tempo after dark and jammmm hot. It fires up like Grace Jones’ “Slave to the Rhythm” before slipping into something more casual – hypnotic, deep house groove and 808 clutter – and later swoops into Donna Summer-esque flight of ecstasy resplendent with William Blake quotation, “The land of dreams is better far / Above the light of the morning star.” “Shouting in the Evening” is Electric‘s most experimental, manic trip though. As chaotically bizarro as Yello’s “Oh Yeah” it bongo bounces like the village idiot from convulsing pogo-pop to early Prodigy-style jester rave. Sugar-rush addictive and admirably goofy.
If Electric‘s modus operandi is to make you dance yourself dizzy, the Pet Shop Boys do allow themselves one moment of introspection. Albeit set to a heroic, stadium-raver. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last to Die” gets a sincere, sublime PSB makeover which underlines the original’s lush melodic ache and impassioned “Stop this madness!” anti-war plea. The echo of Springsteen’s six-string shimmering faintly in the background like a ghost in the machine. “We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore / We just stack the bodies outside the door.” Its earnest seriousness could’ve killed the vibe but instead awards the album heart n’ depth whilst illuminating the sense of euphoria and liberation. An inspired choice.
But Electric ends not with a whimper but more Class A bangers. “Thursday” walks the fine line between the funky fizz of Arthur Baker / Freez’s “IOU”, the squelchy bass of Paul Hardcastle’s “19” and their own Brit-raptastic “West End Girls” with convincing swagger. Sparse bass, streetwalkin’ hip hop patter, softly semi-spoken verses ... before a “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” massive fuckin’ chorus. “It’s Thursday night! Let’s get it right! / I wanna know you’re gonna stay with me for the weekend.” Add in a priceless “Chris Lowe as Northern Lad” talky bit “Thursday! Friday! Saturday! Sunday!” and a cameo from Example – surprisingly good! Who knew!?! – and congratulations you’re a winner. Electric ends with the rapturous “Vocal”, a star stroking salute to dance veterans everywhere a la Sterling Void’s (and PSB’s) “It’s Alright”. “Everything I wanna say out loud will be sung,” calls Tennant like some High Priest of the Rave-up, “Aspirations for a better life are ordained!” The elixir of youth, 3AM eternal.
Electric is not only Pet Shop Boys’ heartfelt valentine to electronic dance music but also a reclamation of their part in its history. That 30 years on they can release an album of such box fresh vibrancy that sounds by-turns vintage, contemporary and futuristic shows their lifelong passion for the genre has not faded. The first of a proposed trilogy, Electric finds a reenergised Pet Shop Boys’ still masterful in the dark art of crafting ‘smart-bomb’ dancefloor bangers.
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