Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are in the mood to dance. As Pet Shop Boys, the two have been pairing commentary on the ups and downs of love, nightlife, politics and history with lush pop compositions for nearly 30 years. The quantity and quality of their output is staggering — LPs, compilations, film scores, plays, a ballet, books, one-off singles and production work for other artists fill their vast catalog — and the UK duo’s 12th studio album Electric (out July 16 – pre-order here) stands among their best. (Believe me: “Axis” and “Vocal” are only the tip of the iceberg.) If you’ve been on the market for music to punctuate your upcoming summer nights, Neil and Chris have delivered in spades with this nine-track set.
That the beat-filled album was produced by fellow Brit Stuart Price (Madonna‘s Confessions On A Dancefloor, The Killers‘ Day & Age, etc.) shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Boys have been circling around him for years. Their remix of Madonna’s Confessions single “Sorry” preceded the Price-produced medley they performed at the 2009 BRIT Awards, and Stuart’s reworking of last year’s “Memory Of The Future.”
What is noteworthy is that the upbeat Electric will arrive less than a year after their previous LP, last fall’s pensive Elysium. It’s also the first Pet Shop Boys album to be released on their own label, x2 (pronounced “times two”), through Kobalt Label Services, after ending their longtime association with EMI/Parlophone .
I had a lengthy talk with Neil and Chris about Electric in May, in which they explained, at times hilariously so, the making of the album and the inspirations for many of their rhythm-driven new songs. Dive into the interview below.
It’s an absolute pleasure to speak with you both. Given that you have your own label now, are you finding there are work-related duties you never had to do before?
CHRIS LOWE: It’s very early days for us, yet, with this new arrangement and going through the label services. It hasn’t affected us personally, but it might be more work for our management company. We don’t know yet. We’re only at the beginning of the process.
NEIL TENNANT: We’ve always had a very hands-on approach to what we do anyway. So at the moment, it doesn’t feel much different, really. And also Kobalt are a big, global organization. In a sense, it’s like being with a big, global record company — they have offices all over the place. I kind of wondered when we left Parlophone whether [we’d] sort of feel a bit out in the cold, but it doesn’t feel like that at all.
Is it within the realm of possibility that x2 will offer up releases by other artists, in addition to Pet Shop Boys?
NEIL: When we left Parlophone and signed to Kobalt, it hadn’t really been at the forefront of our mind that would involve us having our label. But when you have a label with a logo — it’s got a very elegant logo — you suddenly think of other things you could put on the label. At the moment, we have no plans [to release material by other artists] at all. But I think it’s obviously possible that we could do that.
Speaking of “times two,” Neil, you might appreciate this, given your background with Smash Hits. In the late ‘80s, we had the American edition of the magazine, called Star Hits…
NEIL: Which I launched!
Indeed you did! And I remember buying a particular issue after school one day, because you two were featured. Inside, there was a small writeup on a duo called Times Two.
NEIL: Really? Were they American?
I believe so. They did a reggae-pop cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.”
NEIL: I’ve blocked that. I’m sorry, I don’t remember them at all.
Well, then, let’s move to your new record. I wrote last year that Elysium felt like the perfect soundtrack to the fall, while with Electric, it now seems you’ve gone in the opposite direction. It plays like the very definition of “summer album.”
NEIL: Yeah, it does. Totally.
Pet Shop Boys — “Fluorescent”
It’s quite a fast turnaround, given that Electric will be your second album in a 10-month span. How many of these tracks were written during the sessions for Elysium and held over?
NEIL: I think about half. “Axis” was. “Axis” was written right at the beginning of Elysium. “Vocal” was almost the first thing we wrote for Elysium. And then “Shouting In The Evening,” there was kind of a rough demo of it. The new songs were “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct,” “Bolshy” — “Fluorescent” was only written in the last six weeks. It actually had the quickest turnaround from being written to being on a record that we’ve ever had. It’s one of the reasons why the record was delayed.
That’s right — according to the original announcement, Electric was supposed to be out by now!
NEIL: Originally it was going to be [released] in June. Well, there are other reasons as well, but six weeks ago ["Fluorescent"] didn’t exist apart from the rough instrumental demo that Chris had made. We’ve always had the idea that when you make a record — I’m talking about Elysium now — you make song choices. And we had this idea of making it a very reflective and, as you put it, autumnal album, which is a good word for it. We [then] thought we were going to do what we called the Dance album. But that, the Dance album with new songs, has turned into something bigger, which is the Pet Shop Boys’ 12th album. It’s kind of a remarkably quick turnaround after Elysium. But we feel really excited about that. When we go out on tour, we’ve got two new albums to play songs from. We’ve been through a very prolific writing phase. We’ve written Elysium, Electric and also the Alan Turing work, which we’ve pretty much finished now, and that’s all within the last two years.