Pet Shop Boys lead singer Neil Tennant is more convincing when he’s sour than when he’s sweet on the pop-electronic act’s new “Elysium.”
On a few tracks Tennant is plainspoken in his bitterness about the music industry, which is understandable considering the duo hasn’t sustained the momentum generated by PSB’s spate of hits in the 1980s.
On the floating, dream-like “Your Early Stuff,” the vocalist assumes the perspective of a quasi-fan of a fading star: “Those old videos look pretty funny/What’s in it for you now? Need the money?” and, “I still quite like some of your early stuff/It’s bad in a good way, if you know what I mean.” Meanwhile, the muscled-up cocktail-music closer “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin” commemorates a farewell gathering of aging scenesters. And Tennant is especially biting on the droll “Ego Music,” pointedly attacking, without naming, a falsely humble pop diva (Madonna? Lady Gaga?) who is a self-proclaimed humanitarian with a “sense of entitlement,” and whose self-analysis is absurdly self-aggrandizing.
With all that vitriol, it’s hard not to read sarcasm into the cheesy Olympics song “Winner,” the New Age advisory “Breathing Space” and the forced optimism of “Hold On.” (Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking, because those cuts are dreadfully flat when taken at face value.)
Sonically, the U.K. duo’s other half, Chris Lowe, orchestrates a variety of soundscapes — some of them a natural progression from the likes of their “early stuff,” though the new tracks are more modern than retro. Lowe’s most stellar arrangements include his subtly glamorous foundation for the breakup gloom of “Leaving” (where Tennant shifts his nasal vocal into a wistful rasp) and his percolating hypnosis for “Invisible,” where the downtrodden vocalist practically whisper/sings, “Am I tragic or a joke/Wrapped in my invisibility cloak?”
“Elysium’s” smarter tracks ought to re-brighten the spotlight on Pet Shop Boys. And if they don’t, expect even more resentment next time around.
Rating: 3 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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