Pet Shop Boys, "Elyzium"
When you buy a Pet Shop Boys record you know what to expect : a raised eyebrow of intelligent disco-pop, coupled with an English reserve. Their palette had never been wide - sitting firmly on the terrace of electronic music - and with "Elysium", their 27th album (including compilations and rarities collections), their world has become a little smaller.
Production wise, "Elysium" is also the weakest, anodyne, and diluted record of theirs yet : the drums and rhythms are mogadon, static, slow. The bleeps and bloops show no deviation from the well-established Chris Lowe template. The sounds used - such as the 80's deep bass squelches at the end of "Leaving" - sound as if they were recorded in 1985. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but there is no progression, no movement, no artistic development : more that this is a retrospective record. A smaller vision. A backwards step. Some could argue this is a sign of maturity - but it's more a sign of some kind of boredom. A failure to engage deeply with the world around them in any substantive way, and to see the world through the artistic lens of self-reference.
To be blunt, they sound bored and uninterested. If this was the first record they had made, there might not be another. It is also dreadfully sequenced - commencing with the mid-paced "Leaving", that just starts. There is no drama, no build up, no sense of narrative. The last time a record of theirs was so deeply unsatisfying at first listen was a decade ago with "Release" that, equally, mistook mid-paced navel gazing for maturity. The record starts, plods on at a gentle pace, and then ends. As a listening experience, it is deeply unsatisfying. And the record overall sounds as if it is lacking inspiration : a song with a prosaically obvious title such as "Give It A Go" is just as shallow as you might think. "Hold On" sounds as utterly lacking in spark and inspiration as a Verve b-side. You could imagine a lesser spotted B-league pop strumpet putting as a bit of filler on one of her low selling career-ending records. There's not enough personality on this record and what there is is desperately humourless.
Not to say that there isn't the odd stand out moment : "A Face Like That" is the kind of storming pop they could churn out in their sleep twenty years ago. "Winner", and "Invisible" are glances into the world that only they can make. "Ego Music" is the kind of song-about-being-a-popstar they do so well, though it is pointedly and obviously around the cult of iconicgraphic, vaccous pop that makes ladies go gaga. But overall, it commits one of the greatest sins of moden pop music : it is uninteresting, or being boring, and sounds as if the band themselves are not bothered about being relevant to themselves. Down the dumper? Well... what is the point of yet another record? Of saying something if there is nothing new to say? I've always advocated bands continuing to make music and staying current. It's just that this record is a brutally compelling argument for bands to stop making new material.