Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Thursday, 11 July 2013

#12: Pet Shop Boys: Electric

So when the Pet Shop Boys released their 11th studio album, Elysium, last October, I didn’t expect to hear news of another album for quite a long time. Their Electric tour was announced before the end of the year and I assumed that was just the name they’d given to the show. It then emerged that they had already been working on a dance orientated album with Stuart Price and Electric would be the title. In the weeks leading up to seeing them on the Electric tour in June 2013, the release date had been set for the album as well as teaser snippets appearing on their website.

Hearing that it would be more dance orientated made me think more along the lines of it being mainly instrumental maybe reminiscent of the Relentless album that accompanied the 1993 album Very. But knowing Stuart Price was producing it, and knowing one of his favourite albums is Pet Shop Boys’ 1986 remix album Disco, and also knowing his musical direction of the Pandemonium tour and the Brits medley of 2009, I knew this was to be more than just a generic dance music album.

Overall the album is epic, energetic and full of all the elements I’ve always loved in Pet Shop Boys records. Since their full on big synth productions of the mid-eighties with people such as Stephen Hague, Julian Mendelsohn, Shep Pettibone  and Bobby O, over the years they have expanded their sound palette to incorporate orchestras, guitars, choirs, latin percussion and even a brass band at one time, before occasionally going back to their pure synth pop song roots.
Elysium had a more smooth, down-tempo mood about it with heavy use of backing vocals, lush strings and rich sounding keyboard elements. Electric sees them moving back onto the dance-floor with plenty of musical references and nods to where they started from, and what first influenced them, from house music to electro. While Neil and Chris have mainly used software synth plugins via Logic, Stuart Price has contributed real synths to the blend culminating in an electro tour de force.

This was the first teaser on YouTube and formed the opening to their show. It’s a no holds barred pounding instrumental dance track with brief snatches of sampled vocal and vocoder. A torrent of synth lines pour in from every direction over electro drum machine hits that are recognisable from the days of the Please and Disco albums.
A incredibly catchy pop tune with elements of house in the bassline and synth riffs. The chiming bell lead line reminds me a lot of mid-eighties hip hop/electro pop records including Pet Shop Boys’ own such as You Know Where You Went Wrong and Why Don’t We Live Together. It starts as a pop song before steering away into a house dub track with a synth bass track that reminds me of something by A Guy Called Gerald.
Love Is A Bourgeois Construct
A full on Hi-Nrg track with a mock-sampled disco/baroque opening, quoting a piece by Michael Nyman, itself based on a piece by Henry Purcell. This filters into the main track which storms in over a hi-nrg bassline (bom-baba-bom-baba) which they’ve visited many times before.
The mood darkens slightly for this one with a minimal drum track and a deep modulating synth bassline. Very atmospheric and still very exciting to hear conjuring up pictures of late night club land. Featuring the sort of sounds that you'd hear on their early b-sides.
Inside A Dream
Again, this has many elements that remind me of tracks from Please or their b-sides around 1986/7 with the chiming bell lead sound, drum machine hand claps and pulsating synth bass sound. It blends ingredients of New York hip hop and Chicago house records.
The Last To Die
Then we get the Pet Shop Boys take on a Bruce Springsteen song with its catchy chorus over a straight four-four backing with big crashing synth chords giving the track a fuller sound.
Shouting In The Evening
This is a mainly instrumental track with a processed vocal chorus in the breakdown sections. It is peppered with vocal samples, cut up squelchy synth bass lines and fast drum edits.
We get familiar sounds all over this if you know your '86-'87 PSB tracks inside out. The warm string pad sounds over the top of electro drum machine beats and a synth bassline, with the chiming bell lead again. It has staple early Pet Shop Boys moments reminding me of bits from West End Girls, Domino Dancing and A Man Could Get Arrested. A very catchy chorus brings in Chris Lowe’s spoken vocal that has occasionally cropped up on their records. And then we launch into a guest appearance from Example bringing in a rap section before he continues to sing a fantastic bridge section.
An incredibly uplifting track starting off quite mellow, before the backing kicks in, moving through the house music period of Introspective and then European dance music of the nineties and beyond. It is based around the type of synth riff that would raise the hands of crowds of club-goers to the sky.

Though I was expecting it to be a great album based on their track record and what bits I had heard on the web and in concert, it excels even further into a magnificent record. You can tell it has been produced by a big fan of theirs who likes to acknowledge, and honour, where they have come from.

The sleeve, designed by Mark Farrow who remains a fixed part of the Pet Shop Boys’ presentation, features a repeated zigzag pattern against a white background and nothing else. Inside we get photos of Neil and Chris donning big shades and wearing what looks like jackets made up of spiky black straws. They seem to incorporate themselves into the designs and artwork so they become works of art themselves and more than just a couple of middle age blokes making music.

Electric is another example of them standing out from everyone else and never resting on their laurels. It salutes many great moments from the Pet Shop Boys back catalogue as well as the influences that started them off, and it carries them onwards and upwards as they reinvent themselves and explore musical territories keeping them in the ‘now’.
Another masterpiece from the grand masters.