PET SHOP BOYS, Super
Depending on how in depth you go with the Pet Shop Boys, this is either their 13th album (or, including compilations, b-sides sets, remix, soundtrack and live material) their 27th album. Undoubtedly, though, Pet Shop Boys – and it's not wise to call them a band, as they're a duo, are practically electronic musics answer to AC/DC, in so much as they have a rigid lineup, and a set palette. Unlike AC/DC, thankfully Pet Shop Boys change and evolve, and don't write the same song 12 times on the same album : this, “Super”, is both a modern and an ancient record. Drawn from the same core themes the band have had since conception – political, personal, the heady mix of intellectual nightclubs and hedonistic feeling, where you can think, and feel at the same time – the Pet Shop Boys are fascinating because, amongst many reasons, they're an archetypical, perfect example, of artists growing old in time, of documenting the relationship between age and the age you live in.
“Super” is Pet Shop Boys by numbers. In one respect, once futuristic disco at the cutting edge of technology has now become somewhat quaint : like Kraftwerk, who were lapped by the future overtaking them, Pet Shop Boys – whilst never entering a truly dormant period, will never be able to catch the zeitgeist the way they did in their glorious Imperial Phase of 1985-1993 ; and nor should they. The light shines brightly for only a short while, and success and popularity is often nothing but mere coincidence, and even the most desperate attempts to stay 'relevant' mistake commercial success with artistic relevance. It's simply impossible for every artist to remain forever aligned perfectly to the society they live in, and even the most desperate attempts to remain 'big' – yes, Bono, I'm looking at you – look more like a dictator trying to tighten his grasp on a misguided populace than an artistic move. Which, of course, is hinted at in the archaic but witty “The Dictator Decides” in the middle of the LP.
As ever, there's a chock full of classics. Even when the duo hint at perhaps some lesser songwriting (“Twenty Something” and “Into Thin Air” aren't the best songs they have ever done), there's no sense of them trying to be anything less than glorious. There's also a fierce knowledge of, and demonstration, of the best elements of electronic music, of tension and release, build and explosion, of the politics of dancing : the idea that even though everything may be falling to pieces, there's also a window of rebellion in joy, and here, fun is itself, a statement of individualism. The rhetoric of 'hard working families' – as if hard work was a virtue, and not a tacit admission that you haven't worked out how to be efficient yet – isn't something to be proud of.
Ultimately, when you get to your sixties, and on your thirteenth album (or your twenty seventh album, your 55th single,), its not really viable to break new ground, and song like “The Pop Kids” sound like older, wiser versions of other songs, the space that Tennant often lyrically inhabits with the relationship between artistry, celebrity, and normality – he won't make a record about going to the shops, even if they did do one called “Shopping” that is endlessly used by TV programmes about shopping.
Ultimately, “Super” is just another Pet Shop Boys album, and a far better one that any band their age has the right to make, made of good, solid songs and a strong vision. It's not exactly Super, and it won't ever be anybody's favourite Pet Shop Boys album, but it's by no means the worst either. What is it? A good record by a band edging towards the end of their run surely, one with maybe 10 or 20 years at most left in them, but also, one with a glorious future in their past and a track record of records that would be the envy of near enough every songwriting duo on the planet.