Album: Pet Shop Boys

Release, Parlophone
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The Independent Culture

Age, as it must, is starting to catch up with the Pet Shop Boys. Abandoning the clubland x-rays of Nightlife and the failed disco musical Closer to Heaven, they've focused here on less ephemeral, more mature concerns, presented with less regard for the somatic priorities of the dancefloor. Only "The Samurai in Autumn" and "Here" utilise the pounding cycles of synthesiser one's come to expect – and the latter is a leftover from Closer to Heaven. For the most part, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have reverted to the elegant synthetic orchestrations and adult musings of Behaviour, with lots of moody string pads and the occasional bout of swirly guitar from Johnny Marr. The results, on a track such as "Birthday Boy", have the lush, ethereal air of John Cale's Paris 1919, a mystery wrapped in an enigma cloaked in a fog of reverb.

But there's a serious shortfall of the kind of naggingly memorable hooks on which their success has been based – the best one here ("I Get Along") seems to be borrowed from the Super Furry Animals. The lyrics, though, are as thoughtful as ever, ranging over such matters as the anxiety of separation ("Home and Dry"), Russian émigrés on the make ("London"), gay rap stars ("The Night I Fell in Love") and oppressed-minority murders that change the course of the world ("Birthday Boy"). In the closing track, "You Choose", meanwhile, they contradict their earlier "Love Comes Quickly", viewing love as a volitional choice, rather than an unbidden thunderbolt. From fantasy to fact: such is the passage to maturity, I suppose.

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