There’s a world outside of an underground dive bar in a West End town.
If you stay fresh and not only change with the latest musical trends, but also set the precedence that others will follow, music acts can be as relevant today as they were thirty years ago. That is the case with the Pet Shop Boys.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe scored their first hit almost three decades ago depending on where you were when you heard the song for the first time. If it was in American dance clubs, you likely heard “West End Girls” in 1984, but if it was on radio across the U.S. and the rest of the world, it was probably in late 1985 and early 1986. The song reached #1 in the U.S. in May 1986.
Unless you’re a die-hard fan, many people think that when an act releases their twelfth studio album of original songs that the music may be stale. It’s also true that many artists play things safe and produce the same music they did when they released their first album. That is definitely not the case with “Electric”, the latest Pet Shop Boys album.
I’m a firm believer that the 1980s produced the best music of my lifetime. Yes, I’m partial to that decade because I started it as a teenager and then became a club kid. Thirty years ago, England and the second new wave music era brought Culture Club, Duran Duran, Erasure, and Depeche Mode to this side of Atlantic and the Pet Shop Boys had just met and started making music together. That music would become their 1986 debut album, “Please”.
Eleven studio albums and 44 Top 40 U.K. hits later, Neil and Chris were ready to release the most exciting music in quite some time (their last U.K. hit was in 2009). This spring, they released “Axis” as a teaser for the “Electric” album and I was hooked. I pre-ordered the album that day and now that it has arrived, I haven’t stopped playing it.
While “Electric” only features nine songs, the album is almost 50 minutes long. The album is produced by Grammy Award-winning electronic musician Stuart Price, who’s has worked with such musical heavyweights as Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, the Scissor Sisters, The Killers, and New Order. Price also produced “Confessions on a Dance Floor”, Madonna’s 2006 platinum album that was one of the best albums of her career. And, the Pet Shop Boys even remixed “Sorry”, the second release from the “Confessions” album.
Price’s fresh, cutting edge, electronic vibe is strongly felt on “Electric” without hiding the sound of the Pet Shop Boys that we’ve loved for so many years. The album gets off to a blistering start with “Axis” and then segues into the fun “Bolshy”.
By the time we get to the third song, not only do we experience a dance symphony, but also the lyrical mastery that the Pet Shop Boys do so well. The title alone, “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”, is enough to make many say ‘huh”? But, then you feel the pain, the regret, and the promise in Tennant’s voice when he sings over a pulsing beat, “When you walked out you did me a favor/You made me see reality/This love is a bourgeois construct/It’s a blame turn to fallacy/You won’t see me with a bunch of losers/Promising fatality/Love doesn’t mean a thing to me/Talking tough as we linger/We’re better now, it’s clear to me.”
“Fluorescent” is mesmerizing and “Inside A Dream” has a funky, club feel where music is front and center and the vocals are there just to remind you that you’re listening to the Pet Shop Boys.
While Neil and Chris wrote eight of the nine songs, there is one remake on “Electric”. As they did to Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” (1987) and U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” (1991), they took two standards and made them their own. That’s what they do with Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last To Die” (2007). In the hands of the Pet Shop Boys, it becomes a haunting pulsing dance hit.
“Electric” ends with three over the top dance numbers, “Shouting in The Evening”, a lyrically simplistic song that reminds me a lot of 1991’s “Go” by Moby, one of my favorite techno songs of all time.
“Thursday” features English rapper Example. This song would have the best chance of mainstream success in America because it has an updated feel of 1980s club beats, very distinguishable Pet Shop vocals and music, and a strong rap, which is pretty much a staple of many songs played on Top 40 radio these days in the U.S.
I’ve already talked about how much I love “Axis”, the first song on “Electric”. The disc ends just as strong with “Vocal”. With Neil Tennant’s vocals and Chris Lowe’s music, no one can sing and express the lyrics from “Vocal” better than the Pet Shop Boys, “And everything about tonight feels right and so young/And anything I’d want to say out loud will be sung/This is my kind of music/They play it all night long”
While I love all nine songs on “Electric”, my favorite songs are “Axis”, “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”, “Shouting in the Evening”, “Thursday”, and “Vocal”.
As I mentioned earlier in the blog, I was sold on the album once I heard “Axis”. At that time, the Pet Shop Boys’ fans “The Petheads” had already bought all the great seats in Chicago at the Auditorium Theater. Now, I’m frantically watching ebay and stubhub.com to land us two great seats for their September 28th concert. The band says the tour is like a club party and I want to be there! What a perfect birthday present that would be for me!
“Electric” by the Pet Shop Boys is the best album I’ve bought this year.
Sadly, the band has only scored six hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in America (compared to 44 hits in the U.K.), “West End Girls” (#1, 1986), “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) (#10, 1986), “It’s A Sin” (#9, 1987), “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” (with Dusty Springfield) (#2, 1987), “Always on My Mind” (#4, 1988), and “Domino Dancing” (#18, 1988), but if you loved any of those radio songs and you’re a fan of dance music, you’ll love “Electric”!