Pet Shop Boys – Electric
Pet Shop Boys are frequently labeled as a synth-pop or new wave group, and while that’s generally correct, it also gives short shrift to how diverse and rich their music can be. From chilly, extended house numbers to keenly observed pop songs to sunny disco cuts with Latin grooves, Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant have bent around the limitations of dance-pop to create intelligent music that’s as good for mulling over as it is for partying. And while 2013’s Electric isn’t a conscious attempt to touch back on all the different styles the Pet Shop Boys covered during their career, it does serve as a nice reminder that they’re capable of such fun, eclectic dance music. It’s also some of their most consistently energetic work, never turning down the tempo for a ballad or mood piece. Starting things off with the fine, borderline-aggressive house cut, “Axis,” the velocity rarely lets up, even when the album strays from extended pieces. There’s no Actually-styled straight-ahead pop songs here, but Tennant’s carefully honed wit and beautifully glassy voice snake their way throughout, whether it be the triumphant centerpiece, “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct,” the goofy “Bolshy,” or the darkly stylish “Fluorescent.” But what’s remarkable is that for a group nearly three decades old, they can still make these songs sound so distinctive and fresh while using such familiar materials. Hell, even when they invite rapper Example on the urbane, late-night disco of “Thursday,” the two artists feel of a piece instead of musicians awkwardly infringing on a different generation. And if that weren’t enough, they even make a successful stab at a Springsteen cover on the pulsing, club-ready “The Last To Die,” just to show off. Some of this vitality is due to Stuart Price, who co-produces here, to mostly beneficial effect, unifying the disparate threads of the record and painting things over with a shimmering finish. Yet it’s that same gloss that occasionally makes the music here feel calculated and cold in ways that keep the songs from reaching their potential. Certainly, a detached, even ironic, distance is a mainstay of the Boys’ style, but there were always emotions peeking below the surface, emotions that never truly bubble up here, even when the melodies and lyrics suggest they’re supposed to. Still, the material’s generally strong enough to shine through any of the sterilization, and even if isn’t exactly up to the standards of the band’s glory days (which, of course it’s not), Electric is an exciting collection of dance music by any measure. To paraphrase “Vocal,” it’s a record that simply feels right and so young, which, in this case, is more than enough.