Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Electric’: Album Review

Robbie Daw | July 16, 2013 5:30 am
It’s a pity Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe already staked their claim on/used the title Relentless 20 years ago, with their Very-related six-track mini LP, because it’d be one hell of a perfect name for this, the 12th Pet Shop Boys studio album. Here, the songs are ordered, for the most part, alphabetically. And from opener “Axis” to closing track “Vocal,” the beats are pounding, the handclaps are insistent, the glorious ’80s-sounding bells are abundant and the unbelievably catchy pop hooks, well — you won’t be hard-pressed to find them spilling over at every turn.

As it turns out, Electric (out today, ) also stands as the perfect title for Tennant and Lowe’s latest outing, given that the album marks their most energetic, joyous set since 1993’s Very. It’s as if the Boys decided, “Screw it — we’re taking you all dancing again; get Stuart Price on the horn.”

As with most records the Pet Shop Boys have released over the past 27 years, to truly understand the origins of them, you need to first consider their previous project. In this case, that would be 2012’s Elysium, a release I once noted on this site as being “not the most immediately catchy Pet Shop Boys album, but it is ‘a grower.’ And once its ornate arrangements do finally sink it, it’s hard not to realize the pair have crafted the perfect soundtrack to the fall months ahead.” Neil and Chris, still big pop fans at heart, and as fickle as any of us, rightly switch their sound from record-to-record.

What you’ll find on Electric, then, is a tight, consistent run of nine tunes that surge with the British duo’s hallmark sound. “Axis” kicks the sonic trek off with a wink at their early-’80s Italo disco productions with Bobby O. “Bolshy” sends us to the ’90s on a wave of piano house chords before “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” moves the peak-hour euphoria to meltdown levels, thanks to a throbbing bassline and a MichealNyman-by-way-of-HenryPurcell riff. (In fact, the latter makes the perfect companion piece to another Stuart Price masterpiece, Madonna‘s 2005 dancefloor smash “Hung Up.”)

One shining highlight on Electric is “Thursday,” an instant Pet Shop Boys classic teeming with chiming bells and easily recognizable Chris Lowe synths (not to mention Tennant’s warm, trademark talk-singing). As a bonus, London rapper Example carves his name in the sturdy tree of PSB collaborators by serving up a fantastic rap before going one step further with a stab at the chorus. Even the usually-deadpan Lowe sounds as if he’s dangerously close to bursting with excitement as he counts down the days of the week throughout.

On hypnotic club jams “Fluorescent” and “Shouting In The Evening,” Tennant’s sparse vocals allow for Lowe’s pulsating instrumentation and Price’s shimmery production to take center stage. Elsewhere, the duo cover Bruce Springsteen‘s 2007 Iraq War lament “Last To Die” and somehow pull off the near-impossible feat of making a song by The Boss their own. “Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break,” Tennant ponders, transforming the sentiment from protest anthem to intense relationship examination.

Electric‘s centerpiece is the funky “Inside A Dream,” a finger-popping, handclappy number that glows with the same brilliance of Pet Shop Boys album tracks from yesteryear, like “Why Don’t We Live Together” and “I Want To Wake Up.”

That the Pet Shop Boys refuse to even slow things down for the album’s final number, the massive rave throwback “Vocal,” underscores Neil and Chris’s desire for Electric: “I think what we really wanted to do with this is establish that this is a very dance-based record,” Tennant told me when I interviewed the pair recently. “We really want to make sure that’s the vibe that goes out with this record.”

Indeed, Electric succeeds in playing like the four-on-the-floor manifesto it was intended by its creators to be. It does so with grand pop style, and so very relentlessly.

Full Disclosure: Being a longtime Pethead, I’d rank this album third among their 12 studio albums, behind Very (first) and Actually (second). Behaviour, in case your wondering, comes in fourth place with me. Controversial!

Pops Like: To be honest, Electric doesn’t pop like anyone else but the Pet Shop Boys. It’s Neil and Chris doing a full-on summer album, for which we’re all thankful.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: It’s a coin toss between “Thursday” and “Inside A Dream,” as far as the catchiest track here. But the former definitely has the most commercial appeal.

Idolator Score: 4.5/5

Robbie Daw