Electric begins with an astringent scream – the last gasps of some dying synths – being slowly overtaken by a new, aggressive, thumping beat. It’s new and old all at once. It shines in the dark. It entrances you with its casual kicks. It has all the hallmarks of a glittering return to form.
The Pet Shop Boys are back, baby.
I feel it necessary to interject with a disclaimer of just how much I adore this band. I own their entire (not inconsiderable) back catalogue and am flying to Germany in a matter of weeks just to see them in concert. By no means was I guaranteed to love whatever they released this year (speaking of Release, that album really was dreadful), but I was certainly guaranteed to give it a listen. I was not disappointed.
While the album comprises just nine tracks, it clocks in at around 50 minutes long: enough to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth (or torrent’s worth, if you’re one of those people). Electric is the first album the Boys have released on their own label, x2 Recordings, having left longtime label Parlophone after releasing Elysium (2012), a disappointingly boring record. I suspect they hoarded all the good songs for Electric, and after listening to it I’m glad they did.
It’s difficult to pick a standout track as that would imply the presence of fillers, and I truly believe there are none on this album. Each song has its own presence and each song deserves its place. It is, however, difficult to go past the delightfully witty “Love is a Bourgeois Construct,” a song that encapsulates everything I could possibly want in a Pet Shop Boys song – beats, wit and glamour.
For those familiar with the Pet Shop Boys’ earlier hits, such as “West End Girls” (1985) and “Go West” (1993), vocalist Neil Tennant’s voice may be a stumbling block: both he and keyboardist Chris Lowe are in their fifties and Neil just can’t reach the high notes like he used to. As the duo have aged, their songs have shifted focus from Neil’s vocals to Chris’s beats, a move first apparent in Fundamental (2006) and continued in Yes (2009). In a sense, this suits the futuristic feel of their music – instrumental trance is much better suited to today’s clubs and raves.
For this album, they’ve collaborated with renowned producer Stuart Price, who is credited on the cover. The production values are absolutely superb (and there are not many albums I would say that about). Regardless of the quality of the songwriting, the album itself is an audiophile’s delight.
Yet like every album before it, Electric is bursting with the Boys’ trademark adventurous spirit. How many other synthpop artists cover Bruce Springsteen songs? “The Last to Die” is by far the wordiest song on the album, and yet in a strange way, it works.
Sadly, the album ends all too quickly. There’s no lull period, no drag; every song is at it from the word go. Electric feels fresh and genuinely exciting from the first track to last. I could listen to it all over again.
In fact, I just might.