The retro-modernist pop look of the op art cover image could hardly be more appropriate for Pet Shop Boys' first release on their own x2 label. The brittle celebrity-culture reflections of last year's Elysium have been replaced here by a more streamlined set of songs aimed firmly at the dancefloor. “Axis” opens proceedings with a robotic “Turn it on/Electric energy” suggestive of Kraftwerk's “Radioactivity”, but within a minute slips into a pounding electro pulse that's equal parts Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer. It's the most simple, directly dance-oriented they've been since Disco, putting down a marker for the rest of the album.
“Bolshy” features a sly, skipping disco groove, its sharp offbeat high-hats in alliance with pulsing synths, and its opening lines echoed in Russian. But its apparent incitement to “raise your voice/start a feud” soon resolves into a declaration of infatuation as much erotic as political, just one of several sly double-takes offered throughout the album.
Springsteen's “The Last to Die”, for instance, acquires a more implacable, driving momentum to match the glimpses of apocalyptic flight snatched from a car window, and “Inside a Dream” takes a William Blake couplet as its theme, but to less elevated ends, drolly describing dreams as a world that “looks familiar, feels obscene”.
The most successful such adaptation is “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct”, where the galloping pulse of a comically synthesised Purcell melody arouses echoes of the Walter Carlos electronicised classics used in A Clockwork Orange. Its industrious pomposity casts a sardonic shadow over the depiction of a jaded cynic driven by romantic hurt back to the student-politico leanings of his college days. Like “Bolshy”, the song yokes together the erotic and the political, but in more amusing manner.
But ultimately, it's more an album about good times and getting off, from the galloping surge of druggy exhilaration in “Shouting in the Evening”, to the tribute to pop's ability to give voice to unspoken emotions in “Vocal”, embodying that magical notion that “anything I'd want to say out loud will be sung”.
Download: Love Is a Bourgeois Construct; Axis; Vocal; Inside a Dream
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