Pet Shop Boys – Super (x2 Records)
LP / CD / DL
8 / 10
Legendary synth pop duo releases their thirteenth album. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates reviews.
One of the few 80s acts that have continually released material since their debut, Pet Shop Boys return with the follow-up to 2013s Electric, their highest charting album for 20 years. Much has been made of the new album, and in many ways rightly so. It sees Messrs Tennant and Lowe almost at the top of their game.
‘Almost’ because they aren’t the best lyricists in the World, in fact some words on Super are positively cringe worthy. Lead single The Pop Kids is average at best and a strange choice maybe for the re-launch of the duo. That said, it contains many of the bands trademarks that have made their songs unmistakable. Away from the poor chorus, Tennant gives his almost spoken voice the perfect accompaniment to the instantly recognisable Pet Shop Boys sound.
Album opener, Happiness is a curious thing – an electro beat housing a Country chorus with no verses. It’s catchy and comical in a slightly annoying way. Third track in is Twenty-Something which has a drum sounding like a stock beat from a cheap Casio keyboard giving non synth fans the perfect fodder to diss the genre.
But, all is not lost. With three opening tracks that can be pulled apart and dissected comes the Pet Shop Boys charm that cannot be ignored. There is something about them that every pop connoisseur loves, and on Super they manage to re-create that classic 80s sound but somehow with a modern twist. They are, without doubt masters of perfect pop.
Groovy has an intro not dissimilar to Erasure’s Love To Hate You, another 80s formed duo recently resurged and now releasing some of the best material of their careers, and Pet Shop Boys can be proud. Proud because although they have their doubters, they have continued to release pop of the highest order. Groovy, with its pseudo live feel is one such track which may have been a preferred choice as lead single.
And so, Super continues. The Dictator Decides begins with hints of Depeche Mode’s I Feel You and sees a low-key tune work perfectly, and Pazzo!, a near instrumental, sounds at times like that hit by someone else that goes “bump, bump, boom, boom, bump”, you know the one don’t you? Even if you don’t it marks an upbeat centre to the twelve track album.
Classic Pet Shop Boys arrives in the shape of Undertow. Pop beats which are simple but catchier than the Nora Virus, and a chorus which will not be shaken free. The art of building a model pop song is alive and well with even the opportunity to add sounds of thunder harking back to the monumental It’s A Sin. On the same subject Burn is full of more lows and highs than you can shake a low/high stick at and must surely become a single. Textbook pop.
Is Super a classic? Probably not, but at the worst it lives up to its title. It showcases a duo, that have experimented but seem more at ease and comfortable with writing good old fashioned ditty’s that are loved by the pop fraternity and that make them a British institution. Super is a perfect introduction to the latecomer and contains tracks with the inimitable Pet Shop Boys stamp. They are back, but have never really been away and we await the ‘Super Duper’ remix album with open arms.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog and you can follow him on Twitter here, and on Facebook here. You can also follow him on Twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news.