Only PSB could use an excerpt from Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite Of Spring’ (as featured in their current live show) and a verse from Example. It all goes to show that they’re an act who are hard to pin down. Take That’s support act; Lady Gaga’s collaborators; an irresistible live machine. They constantly reinvent pop as modern art.
It’s what’s made them an institution – having clocked up 42 Top 30 singles and four Number Ones. They’re arch and intellectual but as they show on ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Concept’ (could there be a more Pet Shop Boys sounding title?) they’re never too arch to make songs that speak to the people. It’s this song which is the pinnacle of the record: a nagging and irresistible synth riff you swear you’ve heard somewhere before (in fact it’s based on the track ‘Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds’ from Nyman’s score for the 1982 film The Draughtsman’s Contract) soundtracks Neil singing ‘I’ve been hanging out with various riff-raff / somewhere on the Goldhawk Road’ and ‘Searching for the soul of England / drinking tea like Tony Benn.’ It marries the optimism and pessimism that they’ve brilliantly balanced throughout their career and it’s as big as ‘Go West’.
Yet in the main, this is an album about snare sounds, Balearic synths, and club rhythms. Right from opener ‘Axis’, which is almost an instrumental, it’s clear that this is Pet Shop Boys on a dancefloor tip. There’s a pounding beat, an immediate 80s vibe and some wails. Elsewhere the slinky and lithe synth line of ‘Inside A Dream’ with its hip hop style sampled vocal at the start is fantastic, while ‘Flourescent’ is all night time glow, jarring synths and sex noises with Neil deadpanning ‘it’s midnight / it’s time for business… every scandal has its price.’
And there are surprises too. ‘The Last To Die’ is a Springsteen cover and it’s a banger. Who ever thought the Boss could sound like this? But it works perfectly, especially the chorus asking ‘who’ll be the last to die for our mistakes / whose blood will spill / whose heart will break.’ Things get even stranger on ‘Thursday’, a contemplative ode to the weekend with Neil asking his lover to stay with him. So far, so Pet Shop Boys. Then Example turns up to rap about ‘taking that trip down memory lane.’ It feels slightly odd but it all works somehow.
Things finish with ‘Vocal’, an almost straightforward dance track with Daft Punk vocoder writhing underneath. The Balearic beats are still in the foreground and as Neil sings ‘that everything about tonight feels right and so young,’ you can almost see the sun rising in Ibiza.
More than three decades on from the day the pair first met in an electronics shop on the King’s Road the Pet Shop Boys still manage to pack more ideas in an album than many others do in a thirty year career. If this is the summer of disco then the Pet Shop Boys are the kings. Hats off to them.