The past is always with us – for better or worse. Collectively, our highs and lows have brought us to where we are now – or what is known as “the present”. For recording artists (that sounds old-fashioned doesn’t it?), that can be a daunting proposition. The Pet Shop Boys have been huge stars in the UK and Europe for all of their 25+ year career. In the United States it has been a very different story. Despite a rapid fan base willing to buy each release (guilty as charged) their commercial prospects have been on a downward trajectory since 1993’s Very (some would argue it began even earlier). Creatively, however, the duo have been very consistent and churn out electro-pop masterpieces every 18 to 24 months.
2012’s Elysium (definition of Elysium: A place or state of perfect happiness) follows a flurry of non traditional activity that commenced with 2005’s mostly instrumental soundtrack for the 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin and culminated with 2011’s ballet score The Most Incredible Thing (and for good measure, they released 2 traditional studio albums and a double disc b-sides collection in that time period). Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have had the uncanny ability to tap into similar themes with each album while creating stand alone works of art. To call them redundant is missing the point – listen closely and you find the familiar is new and vice versa. The new record is no exception. Touching, sarcastic, witty – sometimes all within the same song. It is also a “grower” – its depth is revealed gradually, each listen revealing something new.
The dead don’t go away…(a bit about the record)
The Pet Shop Boys begin their latest record with a statement of intent. Touching, uplifting, and sad – opener “Leaving” may be the strongest track on the album. Subdued disco beats with emotive singing by Mr. Tenant. It is cliché – but this song sounds like something for an after party, the post club atmosphere. Compares the end of a love affair to the loss of loved ones, with the hopeful lyric that none of it really goes away. Simultaneously makes the listener think of their loved ones lost in death AND past loves. Favorite lines from this one: “Our love is dead / but the dead don’t go away / They made us what we are / they’re with us every day / Our love is dead / but the dead are still alive / in memory and thought / and the context they provide”
“Your Early Stuff” originates from a conversation Neil Tennant had with a cab driver who apparently was unaware that the Pet Shop Boys were still make records (and fabulous ones at that!). I’ve read pieces that have accused the Pet Shop Boys of being overly sarcastic and bitter in this piece (and elsewhere in the album). I’m not sure those writers have been following the same band I have been? This is classic PSB, low-key electronic vibe with lyrics like “Suppose you’re more or less retired now / I think I read somewhere how / You’ve written a book or a film score / Amazing that you like, come back for more”
“Face Like That” is a classic Pet Shop Boys disco rave-up. Futuristic sounding yet heavily influenced by the classic Pet Shop Boys sound (is that a bad thing? I don’t think so). Does Neil Tennant age? Based on his flawless singing I’d have a hard time believing it. “With a face like that / How couldn’t I want you / With a face like that / Why wouldn’t I fall in love with you”
“Ego Music” – Hilarious lyrics that are actual quotes from pop stars. Spoken interludes with a very simple chorus (yes yes yes no no no Ego Music). Dark electronic passages, almost a cousin of their 1996 track “Electricity”. Best lyrics / quotes “In the sea of negativity / I’m the statue of liberty / That’s why people love me / It’s humbling”
This is a really great record, well worth seeking out (or opening Itunes and clicking download). It is not quite a masterpiece, but has some very special, very Pet Shop Boys moments. I picked out 4 tracks to highlight, but I easily could have talked about “Winner”, “Memory of the Future”, or a few others. There are a few tracks that don’t quite work as well for me, but I’ve talked to people who absolutely love them – I’ll let you decide. On this record the Pet Shop Boys face their past and meld it wonderfully into who they are in 2012.
Verdict: Yes Yes Yes Yes
For Fans of: Depeche Mode, New Order, Electronic, Portishead
4. Your early stuff
5. A face like that
6. Breathing space
7. Ego music
8. Hold on
9. Give it a go
10. Memory of the future
11. Everything means something
12. Requiem in denim and leopardskin