It’s hard to believe, but the Pet Shop Boys released their first single only a few months after Kajagoogoo did. Although their recent albums have failed to spawn electro-earworms as catchy or exultant as peak Thatcher-era hits like “Always on My Mind” and “Heart,” Neil Tennant (the wry one) and Chris Lowe (the silent one) can usually be counted on to deliver a combo of trenchant political commentary, lush epics about love both lost and found, and joyously hedonistic dance-pop.
Shifting gears after their hook-laden 2009 album, Yes, the Boys are in a decidedly downtempo, non-banger mood on Elysium (the duo’s 11th studio effort). Tennant and Lowe have hit deep middle age and suffered recent personal losses, so it isn’t surprising that much of the lyrical content focuses on aging and the passage of time. The subdued lead-off track, “Leaving,” establishes the tone: “Our love is dead / But the dead are here to stay / They made us what we are / They’re with us every day.”
The overall effect, though, is muted and hopeful rather than downcast. Lowe’s synthscapes are beautiful as always, glistening especially brightly on “A Face Like That” (the sole flat-out dance track) and “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin,” an achingly gorgeous elegy for a friend that also evokes memories of London-based artist-provocateurs Derek Jarman, Malcolm McLaren, and Lucian Freud.
They haven’t been “boys” for a long time, but PSB justify their longevity by being so damn literate in a pop scene that sees its collective IQ reduced every minute. Long may they reign.
Playlist picks “A Face Like That,” “Winner,” “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin,” “Leaving”