In spite of the fact that they co-produced it with the brilliant Stuart Price, I was not expecting much from this album. The duo’s previous album, Elysium, which was released just 10 months ago, just wasn’t very impressive. It was more than a little ambient, lacking the sort of catchy beats we’ve come to expect from the Pet Shop Boys, meanwhile it was introspective in a weird way that wasn’t nearly as captivating as you’d expect reading someone’s diary to be even though it very much felt like the lyrics were written for themselves without an audience in mind. Also, the first track the Boys released from Electric, “Axis,” was 98% instrumental, giving one the impression that the album was going to be as far removed from their normal synth pop sound as Elysium was. (Granted, “Axis” it was exquisitely produced and infectious, but I still felt like it would have been better with a bit of Neil Tennant’s trademark crooning on top of it.)
Fortunately, Electric is much better than I had expected. But it is pretty far removed from the usual Pet Shop Boys sound. For starters, it’s less of a pop album and more of a full-blown dance album. In fact, it’s such an EDM album that these tracks tend to feel more like club remixes than normal album cuts. In fact, a few of these tracks go beyond the six minute mark, also contributing to the remix vibe. Electric is also very different in that it’s the duo’s heaviest album to date, its beats largely hard and insistent.
The album opens with the above-mentioned “Axis.” If it wasn’t over five minutes long, opening with an instrumental wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Lots of albums open with instrumental intros. But when I listen to Electric, I find myself just wanting “Axis” to be over with already, for the album to get to the lovely vocals. In my humble opinion, they should have used “Axis” as an outro. (It’s actually not bad, but it feels more like an outro than an actual song.) And they should have used “Vocal,” the intoxicating second single, which is the last track on the album, as the opening track. The ironic thing is that part of it goes, “I like the singer / he’s lonely and strange / every track has a vocal / and that makes a change.” It kind of makes one want to scream, “You lie!” Alas, its synthy goodness is too rich and amazing to scream at. The melody is ripe, too, making one want to sing-along.
Speaking of sing-along songs, I dare you to listen to “Bolshy” without singing. “Bolshy, Bolshy, Bolshy-O,” the chorus goes, over and over again. If that doesn’t do it for you, the thick, chugging beats and assortment of twinkly bells just might. But the song should come with a warning because it’s impossible to get “Bolshy, Bolshy, Bolshy-O” out of your head after listening to it. It’s a wonderful hook, but it leaves one feeling hypnotized. Of course, the constant flurry of repetitious beats contributes to that as well. To that end, Electric is a wholly entrancing record.
Although it is one of the longer songs, one of the tracks that feels more like a traditional song and less like a remix is the stunning “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct,” a tune that immediately calls to mind Madonna’s “Hung Up,” which Stuart Price also produced. You could swear they’re borne of the same ABBA sample, but “Love…” is actually constructed around a sample from English composer Henry Purcell‘s “King Arthur.” I’ve never heard “King Arthur,” but it might explain why “Love…” has a very galloping, classical vibe beneath its layers of gorgeous synth and boisterous beats. Eventually, it even has some chanting, almost making it feel like triumphant film score.
One of the album’s most captivating tunes is “Thursday,” which finds the usually silent Chris Lowe spell-bindingly chanting “Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday” before Tennant sings, “stay with me for the weekend.” The song was originally built around a freestyle rap by Nicki Minaj but instead it features Brit rapper/singer Example, who delivers a tasty, narcotic verse before singing a bit. His contribution is so good that you’ll wish the song featured even more of him.
Finally, I have to mention “The Last To Die,” a sunshiny cover of a track from Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album Magic. The Boys have completely re-imagined the song, toning down the strings and replacing the drums with luscious, throbbing electro-beats, meanwhile adding seductive synthesized bass along with chugging bass guitar. If you don’t pay close attention to the lyrics, it feels like an inspiring and uplifting track, particularly with the warm background chanting. But it’s actually a pensive song that’s said to be about the Vietnam war. “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake?” the song begs.
All in all, Electric is colorful, vivacious treat sure to please longtime fans of the duo and win them a new following of club kids who’ll dig the sparkly, caffeinated beats. If Elysium put you to sleep, Electric will surely wake you up.