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The Pet Shop Boys – Electric

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Pet Shop Boys - ElectricListen 1:

Wahey, new Pet Shop Boys!

[listens a bit]

Wahey! Pet Shop Boys!

[scratches]

Wahey. Hmm.

[more scratching, rolls fag]

Is this… uh… well, albums aren’t necessarily the best format for pop.

[wanders off]

Popjustice.com – probably the only place that talks about pop seriously without going all Paul Morley/ “I’ve got a crit theory degree but no actual liking for women/ gay folk” – has this idea about it taking 28 listens to get to grips with a pop song. Here, for instance. Which is probably about right – after the initial AAHHHH THIS IS EXCITING bit it’ll take a while to decide whether it’s any cop. I think things are a bit different on the Freq side of the fence – for me, certainly, I’m happy to let the “is it any cop?” question slide if I’m into the concept (which, in turn, probably makes me a total wanker). But pop albums are a different beast again, oh yes.

And the problem with pop albums is that there are painfully few that are genuinely great start to finish. It’s a very noble pursuit – ultimately, pop’s about having songs that make you go blind with glee; the only time pop albums make sense is when they marry up with dance music (Viz, Britney‘s Blackout). Abba may have produced the best album in Abba Gold, but that’s a singles collection – their actual albums were total tosh. The nobility’s in the die-by-the-sword bit – you can’t get away with an exotic drum solo, ‘interesting’ production, ‘thick basslines’. That’s all there on Purple Rain but, well-produced though Darlin’ Nikki is, that’s not what it’s about.

Listen 2:

Ok, bit dancey… this is getting on for club music.

[stares into space bit]

Single “Love is a Bourgeois Concept” … this is a bit like PSB taking the piss out of PSB…

[Roll fag. Smoke, frown a bit]

Is it a disco concept thing? Those kick drums are nice sounding. Those synths are pretty slinky. Mmm. That’s getting on for poppers o’clock [NB this is a phrase I’ve stolen from popjustice. Thanks, popjustice] [Contemplates Happy Hardcore remixes of PSB a bit] These lyrics are a bit funny… funny odd. Pretty much in line with PSB – framing of more parochial elements of pop, that enchanted mundanity thing.

[makes cup of tea]

HANG ON A FUCKING MINUTE. THIS IS A BIT GOOD (“Shouting in the Evening”). Maybe I can like the… Mmmmhhhrrmb… So basically I’m saying that pop is essentially about singles. I really like the turn that Die Antwoord made a while ago – fuck albums, it’s a waste of time. The album, as I see it, is a record company filibustering. While it grew into a proper format in a couple of directions (jazz and arty offshoots) – and it’s great that we have that – for ‘the song’, the pop song, I’m not convinced it ever worked.

Singles collections are always grand but I wonder why someone like Carly Rae Jepsen would bother with an album or even a second single. It’s like creating the Sistine Chapel in ten minutes then making a dilapidated shed for 20 years. Sure, great shed Carly but do you have any idea how amazing “Call me maybe was”? (NB I have no idea if she has done an album – frankly, there’s no way it can be anything like as amazing as that one single because the world would implode and the third temple would appear and Tu-Pac would ascend to heaven if it was).

I’m getting to something like the actual review. I hope you don’t read these things to find out about the records because, frankly, I’m a total narcissist.

PSB are great at politics. A sort of politics that can infiltrate a general consciousness. I mean, we’ll always need the shouty Crass/ Le Tigre/ Atari Teenage Riot/ KRS-1 fare, but that’s a politics that’s about being already invested – necessary blazons of communal resistance, however symbolic and apparently disconnected from the subjects. PSB are the kind of politics that don’t-get-out-much-anymore folk can get into. The veneration of suburbia, f’rinstance – a very modest, parochial politics. And here we get dig at bankers, the desperation of the wage slavery/ booze your way to retirement sentiment (“Thursday”), the dispossession of ageing academics still wanking on about early-20s shit (“Love is a Bourgeois Concept” indeed!)

The closing song “Vocal,” seems to be about the lack of vocals in dance music. A pretty simple, and potentially trite thing, but – but! – there’s more discrete, probably contextual politics there. I have a mate who tells me that gay disco was much better in the ’70s – basically, the idea is that the early ’80s was a point when gay politics in music turned from increasingly-less-discrete expressions to a kind of hedonistic quietism. I’m sure he’s entirely right, but he’s been promising me a mix for a couple of years now (Mr James, this is your cue). In the 21st-century context, having a lyrical dance record is pretty rare, being willing to break the hegemony of quietism seems pretty important.

Listen 3:

Ok, so let’s have a go. Ah, that’s a bit nice. Turn that up a bit. Yeah, I’ll have that.

[40 minutes later]

Let’s have another go! PSB, yeah!

[etc]

So you probably like PSB already. Because you’re a good person. This is a dance album. This is a proper pop album. And by proper pop album I mean that there’s amazing songs when it’s up and dance songs when it’s marginally-less-up, rather than shit ballads or dubious (for which read shit) ventures into dubstep. On the Lowe side of things (and apologies for self-contradiction by going all production-y) there’s plenty of the pseudo-baroque flourishes, loads of thick pilly synths, AMAZING kick drum sounds. Tennant‘s lyrics are sparse, perhaps not as acidic as days of yore but definitely befitting someone who’s not-very-arguably this nation’s greatest songwriter (with deference to Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper).

A group who’ve never really found the off-the-boil setting and a group who understand that to make big shiny pop you have to be amazingly careful and tasteful. I’ve not made it to listen 28 yet, so I might have to append this, but in essence what you have is our greatest pop group continuing to be our greatest pop group. The herbs and spices are all from the disco-spectrum – basslines, proper kicks, Moroder filth – a proper electro-virtuosity and words you can sing along to and everything.

Well done lads. Well done indeed.

-Kev Nickells-

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