It’s a good time to be nostalgic. The pioneering English synthpop duo are back with their thirteenth studio album, and it’s worth saying outright that they haven’t lost a step.
Much like their contemporaries with OMD‘s English Electric in 2013, or New Order‘s Music Complete in 2015, the Pet Shop Boys are an 80s band still going strong, making music in the now. And it sounds exactly the way you’d want them to sound – better even. With energetic, danceable rhythms that meld deep house and electropop, the duo stay faithful to their classic sound, while keeping it in the present with an updated sonic palate and contemporary production techniques.
And have no doubt – this is a record that certainly thrives in this current era of electronic music. Producer Stuart Price has previously collaborated with Kylie Minogue and Madonna, and his work subsequently lends Super a club-friendly sheen. But that’s only one part of the puzzle. So what keeps an 80s band like the Pet Shop Boys relevant these days? I would argue that it’s the fact that the Pet Shop Boys have always been pop songwriters at heart.
In an age where mainstream pop hits are produced by house DJs, where lyrics are nothing more than an empty adornment, and where strong melodies are more of a formality than a requirement, the Pet Shop Boys continue to stay true to what made the past decades such a memorable era for pop music. Ultimately a good pop song is catchy and makes you want to dance, but anyone who pays attention to the lyrics ought to be rewarded too, and it’s always good when an artist puts effort into having those lyrics actually mean something.
‘The Pop Kids’ is a charming if not somewhat clumsy (rhyming ’90s’ and ‘university’ was a bit on the nose) retelling of the 90s dance music scene. And it may as well sound like it was made in the 90s too, with the obligatory piano rhythms and melancholy-yet-upbeat synth pads. ‘Twenty-something’ is a fun, whimsical reflection on just what a twenty-something year old is supposed to do with themselves in this century, and it certainly resonated with me. Other tracks forgo lyrical depth in favour of crafting pulsating, EDM-tinged exercises (‘Undertow’, ”Pazzo!’) but the result is just as strong.
But the real highlights can be found in the layered, meticulously crafted synth soundscapes of ‘Burn’ and ‘Inner Sanctum’, which are an absolute treat to any aficionado of deep house or dance electronic music in general – basically, anyone who heard the kind of sounds that could be generated with a synthesiser and decided that there was little else that they ever wanted to listen to. And ‘Happiness’… is precisely the sort of thing you’d hear played at night at some glossy upmarket club. Stylish and nice to look at it, but ultimately a bit shallow.
The best of the 80s and 90s are contained right here, right from the musical foundations to the pleasingly minimalistic cover art. So until CHVRCHES or Sky Ferreira put out their next releases, we’ll just have to content ourselves with these thriving old timers showing us just why they laid down the template for an entire genre of music. It’s a win-win situation.
Hometown: London, United Kingdom.
Sounds like: New Order, OMD.
Say what? Their infamous moniker originates from a friend of theirs worked in a pet shop in Ealing. I only just decided to look that up.
Over and out, by Darren.