The Pet Shop Boys sound has always been just a little too understated for me. Neil Tennant’s warble and the polite keyboards rarely present the power that I’d prefer. Despite my reservations they somehow seem to have done pretty well for themselves and are now back with their 11th album (not counting their numerous live albums, compilations and singles), Elysium. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not half bad. Like a third bad, maybe. Or maybe not. Sometimes with this album I am left wondering if the song I am listening to is as banal as it sounds, or if I am misunderestimating some piece of brilliant British wit.
It starts out with strong enough with, “Leaving” which sounds like my notion of an archetypal, solid, good-if-unspectacular PSB song. Then we’re into “Invisible” which is a little slow but not to the point of tedium. Third, we have the first weird sidestep, “Winner”. With its eighties computer bleep-bloop riff and pedestrian lyrics about being an, erm, winner, it sounds like the ending montage song from a lost “Revenge of the Nerds” movie. Now, there’s nothing wrong with “Revenge of the Nerds”. It’s perfectly fine cinema and, besides, Poindexter played a mean electric violin. But I’m not sure it should be where the Pet Shop Boys hang out.
Luckily, the album moves back into perfectly adequate dance pop for a while, until we are spit out at “Ego Music”. It sounds like a song your precocious 12 year old cousin would write. The kind of kid who may one day demonstrate talent but who is currently stuck with the rudiments. Lordy, it’s bad. Except for the spoken bits, voicing the simultaneous vapidity and self importance of pop stars, which are hilarious. In a low key British way. “Ego Music” goes straight into “Hold On” a seemingly serious ballad which is so awful that I wonder if it isn’t the previous song’s final punch line. Like, really, I think it may be. They couldn’t actually write something this bad, right? It’s gotta be some smarty pants UK thing. I think. I am left scowling in confusion for the final four songs, all of which are perfectly fine.