This 11th studio album could be the pop pair’s warmest and wisest yet.
Nick Levine 2012-09-03
There's still no one else quite like the Pet Shop Boys. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe performed at the 2012 Olympic Games’ closing ceremony wearing conical hats that made them look like electro-pop sorcerers.
Now, they’ve named their 11th album Elysium – the place the ancient Greeks sent their Gods for a blissful afterlife. To record it, these quintessential Englishmen decamped to Los Angeles to work with Andrew Dawson, engineer on recent Kanye West albums.
Thankfully, the result is neither a foray into rap music, nor a throwing in of the towel. It's just a quite subdued Pet Shop Boys album. Disco stompers are M.I.A., mid-tempo electro-pop dominant.
That's not to say the album lacks variety. There's an industrial edge to Everything Means Something, while Give It a Go has a 1960s lounge-pop vibe. A song called Hold On was apparently based on Handel, but actually sounds like something from a musical.
It's accomplished stuff, but Elysium isn't quite a top-drawer Pets album like 1988's Introspective or 1993's Very. It feels familiar, not consciously ambitious, and lacks one truly magnificent moment.
Six-minute finale Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin probably comes closest. Disco-tinged and wistful, it's like their classic 1990 single Being Boring, but with its glad rags on.
However, Elysium could be Pet Shop Boys' warmest, wisest album yet. Several songs offer appealingly realistic views on relationships. "I'm not saying you can't find someone better," Tennant concedes, "But in the meantime, why not give it a go?"
There's also a charming song called Breathing Space, which is about just that; and an anthem for the recession era whose message is plain and hopeful: Hold On.
Don't worry though, Tennant and Lowe haven't overdosed on happy pills while staying in Los Angeles. On Ego Music, they send up the self-important breed of modern pop star. "In a sea of negativity, I'm a statue of liberty," Tennant deadpans, imitating their pretentiousness.
The Pets also mock themselves on Your Early Stuff, whose lyrics are stitched together from cutting remarks made by taxi drivers. One cabbie apparently told this pair of seasoned pop veterans: "I suppose you're more or less retired now." On this evidence, he was very wrong indeed.