Twenty-seven years after “West End Girls” topped the chart on both sides of the Atlantic, Pet Shop Boys are still as knowingly sardonic as they’ve ever been, even if they’ve only really been preaching to the converted since the mid-90s.
Their eleventh studio album, Elysium, contains pot shots at everything from self-obsessed celebrities to their own back catalogue, but the punchy nature of its lyrics is rarely reflected in its music. Indeed, having worked with Girls Aloud producers Xenomania on 2009’s hook-laden Yes, the flamboyant duo appear to have made a conscious effort to travel in the completely opposite direction for most of these 12 tracks.
There’s little in the way of obvious singles here, and even those that are feel like Pet Shop Boys on autopilot. The plodding “Winner” is a lacklustre attempt to cash in on the spirit of London 2012, but it comes across more like a local track meet than Olympic Games, “Give It A Go” is a twee lounge-pop number which comes complete with a bewildering accordion solo middle-eight, while “Memory Of The Future” is the kind of dated schlager-pop you’d associate more with Modern Talking than such celebrated pop royalty.
And other than Neil Tennant’s deadpan rap on “Ego Music,”—an inspired barbed attack on the pretentious statements served up by the likes of Lady Gaga (“I see myself as a building/my mind is the office where the work gets done”)—it’s hard to see where Andrew Dawson, the Grammy winning producer behind records by Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne, has made his mark.
In reality, Elysium sounds more like an attempt to revisit former glories than an attempt to revitalise Pet Shop Boys’ career. The self-deprecating “Your Early Stuff” (“those old videos were funny”) could quite easily be mistaken for a parody, the bombastic “A Face Like That” sounds like a reject from the Actually era, while “Hold On” is a generic theatrical number more suited to their ill-fated Closer To Heaven musical.
There are the occasional moments where Tennant and Lowe show their true class. Opener “Leaving” is a gorgeous slice of low-key chill-out which echoes the Balearic soft-rock of Empire Of The Sun, while second track “Invisible” is a beautifully haunting dream-pop ballad which (temporarily) suggests that the duo have perhaps recorded the finest album of their career.
But if such lyrics as “this is the last chance for goodbye/let the music begin” on the corny US 80s soap opera theme tune closer “Requiem In Denim & Leopardskin” are hinting that the end is in sight for Pet Shop Boys, then Elysium is a disappointingly flat finale.