Pet Shop Boys are English synthpop duo Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant, a couple of musical chameleons who have dominated the European charts with their lushly romantic pop sounds for almost thirty years. Since their first release, Please, in 1986, the group have consistently re-imagined their sound whilst remaining true to their silky electro-pop roots, and have been central figures in both gay culture and the English music scene. On their new release, Electric, the group endeavour to mould the perfect summer record with electronic-tinged, disco-fused beats, but by doing so lose the individuality that once made them pioneers of avant-garde pop music.
Electric is Pet Shop Boys’ twelfth studio album, an achievement in itself, and marks their first record not to be released through Parlophone Records, but instead on their new label, x2. Released just ten months after their last album, Elysium, the two albums act as mirrored halves, complemented yet juxtaposed. Where Elysium’s pensive, reflective mood was perfect for the hazy autumn days, Electric is a quintessential summer album; all shiny synth beats and polished production. For the album, Pet Shop Boys have employed the talents of fellow Brit Stuart Price, the producer of Madonna’s glittering Confessions on a Dance Floor, and Electric very much follows in the same vein, spliced with disco-oriented, cutting-edge electronica, but hoping to retain the group’s signature fusion of intelligence and bubblegum-frosted synthpop.
There are some great moments on Electric, and Pet Shop Boys have succeeded in combining vintage synth and drum machine patterns with modern computer sounds. The vibrant dance floor anthem “Axis” kicks off the album, its auto-tuned vocals and slick synthesizers sounding like an outtake from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and should be a club favourite over the summer months. “Love is a Bourgeois Construct” is one of the album’s best tracks, inspired by a David Lodge novel, and a perfect example of the witty, erudite pop song that Pet Shop Boys have always excelled in. Following their tradition of covering classic songs, their rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last to Die” also brings a bruised vulnerability to the album, and will remind fans why Pet Shop Boys are lauded for being such an interesting and versatile act.
Unfortunately not every song on the album is as charming or well-constructed. The repetition of “bolsy bolshy bolshy oh” on the razor-sharp “Bolshy” grates after a couple of minutes, and the dupstep inspired “Shouting in the Evening” is a song that should have been discarded. “Florescent” is exactly as its title suggests, chilly and bright, bolstered by an intriguing Alice in Wonderland take on the gay club scene, but is let down by lacklustre lyrics and an overcooked song length. At other times, the album’s production feels heavy-handed, and the bizarre elements of rap on “Thursday” shows that the duo are trying too hard to fit in with recent mainstream pop music. In the 80’s and 90’s, Pet Shop Boys didn’t follow trends, they set them, yet this image doesn’t correlate with the output on Electric. Many of the songs are indistinguishable from one another, and because of this, Electric is an enjoyable, but mostly forgettable record.
Overall, Electric is a fun album, but not Pet Shop Boys at their best. The group have fought to stay relevant and have crafted an appealing retro-modern twist on dance music, but have lost some of their identity in the process. The main problem is that the album lacks the insight and infectiousness of previous releases, and though there are some captivating songs, the record cannot be compared with their greatest. Treated as a standalone album, it is satisfying enough however, and once more illuminates Pet Shop Boys’ ability to make beguiling music.