Without resorting to any startling transformations, Pet Shop Boys have tended to absorb trends, rather than break a sweat reacting to or chasing after them. Their arched, sardonic observations and striking production have always proven that their sure shot instincts for blending articulate introspection and contemporary dance resulted in moody classic after moody classic. Bright and enthusiastic in its imagery, Super () is arguably the equal of their very best, in turns subdued, synthesized, usurping and, well, super really.
Their producer of choice, Stuart Price, ensures that there is not a bleep or bloop out of place. Indeed, the duo are found to be as experimental, forward-looking and thirsty for a subliminal hook as ever. Price, who last worked with the duo on 2013’s critically acclaimed Electric, implements contemporary innovations, in order to frame a set of effortlessly enjoyable pop at its very finest.
“It’s a long way to happiness, it’s a long way to go,” says the song’s only lyric, but “Happiness” is no slog. Its energetic hustle quickly establishes the care-free, hook-filled style being explored on the album. Opening with an instrumental, exploratory feel is a confident move, and one that pays off sweetly. With a starry-eyed melody anchored by middle-aged caution, Pet Shop Boys are clearly not courting the charts, but the enthusiasm is a thrill in itself.
Hypnotic synth wash “The Pop Kids” plays along wonderfully with a backing track that sounds like a dreamy echo of the 1990s dance staple “Playing With Knives” by Bizarre Inc. It is a song that peaks so high it could excuse anything. Finding its ’90s pulse with a piano run that could go on and on without ever sounding repetitive, it conjures pounding eurodisco so blindingly it threatens to eclipse the rest of the album. However, if this is a starkly euphoric high, then luckily the rest of the record isn’t too shabby either.
The rueful “Twenty-Something” is a spooky sounding number. Uncovering emotions underneath youth’s world-conquering façade, with just the right mixture of camp cynicism, it’s hard to tell if Tennant envies the young or not. With extraordinary care, “The Dictator Decides” pleases exceptionally on the production front. Its grubby basslines, plaintive vocals and point-perfect production offer 4 minutes of dubbed out melancholia. Price’s studio know-how is similarly evident in the production of “Inner Sanctum,” which revisits the early 2000s trance that made Pet Shop Boys 2013 single “Vocal” so spectacular. Beginning with an ominous drum-loop, bass and synths, it goes on to reach a majestic state of dancefloor euphoria not heard since Energy 52’s iconic “Café Del Mar.”
Robots have a proven track record with high quality electronic pop, as far as subject matter goes. However, on “Sad Robot World,” Tennant and Lowe opt for a decidedly more downbeat dissection of emotional data. While Tennant isn’t the most technically accomplished singer, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a knack for dramatization — here his inability to sing is no shortcoming, as it surprisingly adds to the song’s soft, disconnected deflation.
The casually hypnotic “Say It To Me” is a straight up, hands in the air dance-pop anthem, with a lightness of touch the duo have spent four decades perfecting. Tennant’s lovelorn pining creates equal heat to Lowe’s mesmerising mist of Ibiza-conjuring dancetopia. This dance focus is matched in the energising rave of “Burn,” which dances in the flames of some of their best ’80s work, its scorching synths recalling the production blast of both their cover of “Always On My Mind” and Liza Minelli’s magnificently deranged reading of “Losing My Mind” (which Pet Shop Boys produced, naturally). What it doesn’t have is much of a chorus, but opting to thrive on such a rush of sound instead is the far more convincing and danceable option.
The record’s meticulous production ensures it stands up against the duo’s most iconic work. It may not be an upgrade for Pet Shop Boys compilation casuals, but the British duo can’t be accused of playing it safe, and clearly have their eyes set on the club — if not the charts. Spurred on by dance auteur Stuart Price, the album finds the pair yet again unafraid and undaunted to experiment restlessly in the studio. The result is something beguiling and unique. Proving their penchant for pristine beauty and peculiar beats is undiminished, Super is actually superb.
Super is available now on Amazon and streaming platforms.
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