After 2012’s Elysium, you could probably have been forgiven for thinking Pet Shop Boys had lost it a little bit. There was, as I explained when I reviewed it, nothing especially wrong with it, but it wasn’t exactly contemporary.
But there were rumours floating around at the same time – they had recorded a dance album, and it was going to come out very soon. Which it did. Electric is entirely contemporary. And also retro. And also totally brilliant.
It wasn’t the first time they had done something like this. 1993’s Very was both accompanied by a mini-dance album Relentless and also followed soon after by remix album Disco 2. The largely forgotten guitar album Release (2002) was followed by the brilliant remix/dance album Disco 3 (2003). So they had form, but even so, Electric was quite unexpected. Previously they had all been mini-albums or remix albums, whereas this was another proper album. Not only that, but having got into the habit of only releasing new material every three or four years, this was a whole new release, just ten months after its predecessor.
The album opens with the excellent Axis. There aren’t a lot of vocals – mainly “turn it on,” and “electric energy,” but somehow it’s still classic Pet Shop Boys, perhaps channelling the extended introduction to their first remix album Disco in 1986, which opened with the brilliant In the Night.
Bolshy follows, probably my least favourite track on the album due to its slightly daft chorus, but the verse and production more than make up for any failings it might have. Single Love is a bourgeois construct comes next, again with a slightly daft chorus, but this time also with a cheeky smile on its face and a fun lyric.
It’s tempting to wonder where exactly Pet Shop Boys found the creativity to record something quite this brilliant. After all, three decades into their career, they could certainly be forgiven for going a bit more slowly from now on. Perhaps the support of producer Stuart Price helped – and Neil Tennant‘s claim that this is just the first in a trilogy of albums with Price will be very welcome news if it turns out to be true.
Flourescent is lacking somewhat in Neil Tennant‘s trademark clever lyrics, but it’s easily one of the best tracks on this album, probably mainly because of the production. It’s enormous, moody, dark, and beautiful. We may be just four tracks into this album, but it’s already excellent in the extreme.
Somehow, though, the best is yet to come. Inside a dream is far from the dreary centrepiece that many acts might go for. It’s perhaps the most retro-sounding track on the album, with its huge hand claps and 80s-style counter-melodies, but there’s also something very contemporary about it.
Then comes perhaps the oddest track on the album, The Last to Die, a cover of a song by Bruce Springsteen. It could easily sound very out-of-place indeed, but somehow it fits perfectly, and is another of the best tracks on here. Like all Pet Shop Boys covers, it’s totally unexpected and probably shouldn’t work, but it really does work very well indeed.
Shouting in the evening is probably the low point of the second half of the album. Which is a bold statement, as this is still an excellent track – the calibre is just so high on Electric that there’s no room for anything less than extraordinary.
Then the most recent single Thursday is the penultimate track, and from the opening chords you can hear that it’s classic Pet Shop Boys – it even boasts a West End girls-inspired bass line. And a list! Chris Lowe turns up for one of his occasional vocals to list the days of the weekend – “Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” The lyrics are quite incredible – everyone knows the weekend starts on Thursday rather than Friday, so why had nobody ever written a song about that before? Just when you think you’ve got the hang of the song, Example turns up and raps and sings his way through the second half. It’s an unlikely collaboration, but one which works perfectly.
Finally the main single Vocal brings the album to a close in exceptional form. By the time the chorus kicks off, you know pretty much what to expect, but somehow it still surprises, with its “hands in the air,” synth riff. Quite incredible.
Electric is, without a doubt, the best Pet Shop Boys record in at least two decades, and easily deserved to spend the entirety of 2013 at number one. Without doing anything completely different, they have managed totally reinvent themselves and come back sounding fresh and new. Three decades on, and they still clearly have a lot to offer. Quite how they will come back after this is difficult to guess, but I for one am looking forward to finding out.
You can find Electric through all standard retailers. There isn’t a special edition, so just grab the CD version instead.