“Elysium” – Pet Shop Boys

3 stars (out of 5)

0

Product DetailsI think it’s safe to say that the last essential album that the Pet Shop Boys released was probably their best. “Very” was released in 1993, that’s nearly 20 years ago, and just for top-notch, quality songwriting alone (one of the many factors that made this such a perfect and revered collection of pop songs) nothing they’ve released since has come close to matching this, their masterpiece, or  the 4 albums that preceded it. Pet Shop Boys are, after all, a pop act and pop acts by their very nature have a sell by date; pop culture is predominately dictated by youth culture and youth is all too fleeting.  So what do the Pet Shop Boys sound like in 2012? Pretty much the same as they have done anywhere in the last decade; nice but far from necessary.

2009’s ‘Yes‘ was produced by Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Kylie, Cher) and magic was not created in the way that you may have hoped for from what should have been a pretty much dream collaboration.  It was streamlined, safe and, bar a few highlights, dull. This time LA resident and R’n’B and hip hop producer (Kanye West, Jay Z), Andrew Dawson is on production duties -- how does that sound for an interesting meeting of musical minds? Well, just don’t expect the unexpected. The best and most surprising thing about this collaboration is that Dawson, on the more successful tracks, has made the Pet Shop Boys sound like, well, the Pet Shop Boys. So much so that in some places it’s shocking. “A Face Like That” incorporates cowbells, synth lines, electronic hand-claps; all deployed to incredibly similar effect in 1986’s “Paninaro” (known to millions in its remixed form as the theme to the iconic 1990’s TV show, the Clothes Show). It’s unnerving and initially provides a huge adrenaline rush, even Neil’s vocals sound unchanged from over 20 years ago. Problem is the song itself is ok but nothing more and once you’ve got past the initial bombast it ultimately has the effect of you desperately needing to hear the brilliance of the original that it oddly mimics. It’s going backwards not forward. Without a doubt the album this most resembles though is 1996’s “Bilingual” which sonically encompassed Balearic beats, sunny sad handbag house and musical theatre (later versions of the album included a straight forward, high energy cover of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”). It was uneven and was the sound of the Pet Shop Boys losing their bite for the very first time in a decade and the same themes are covered here.

Your Early Stuff” and “Ego Music” are funny, self referencing and ironic; the absolute essence of the Pet Shop Boys. “Ego Music” could have been brilliant but is undermined by a predictable, bleeping electronic soundtrack when it should have been manic and crazed much like “Yesterday When I Was Mad” from “Very” which it resembles, or tries to at least.  “Leaving”  is a crisp, multi-layered  mid-tempo track with a nostalgic instrumental break referencing Nu Shooz’s 1985 hit “I Can’t Wait” and is lovely and affecting as is the ode to the fifties gay man, ballad “Invisible”. “Winner” however, a disastrous decision for first single, is an attempt at lighters aloft power pop and is best regarded as conceptual. “Hold On” sounds like it was written for an assembly of  six year olds singing about global warming, bizarre but pointless, and the muzzy, bland “Give It A Go” could be a cheesy theme tune written for corporate away day team building event.

The best song on “Elysium” however, where everything finally comes together, is the steely grey “Everything Means Something” all  minor chords in the verses and major in the chorus and a dubby reverb on Neil’s vocal creating an unsettling effect. It’s interesting, diverting and brilliant and is very Pet Shop Boys (excuse the pun), and by that I mean what the Pet Shop Boys were once and judging by this one song could still be today, maybe. However, on the majority of the songs in this collection, Neil and Chris sound like they are going through the motions; the ideas may be there still but the realisation is not.