Sunday, 21 July 2013

Reviews of things!

Tonight I shall mostly be reviewing Electric by the Pet Shop Boys because I got it and it is amazing. Of course I would say that because I am a bit of a fan of the Pet Shop Boys and also it appears to have done better critically (and in fan circles) than their last album Elysium. Now me, I like both but for completely different reasons. Their last album is definitely driving music or mood music for me. It doesn't do well in the background or if I'm working or if I'm doing housework or whatever. This latest album fills those spaces and is also driving music.

Are you sure you want to go on?

The first track, Axis, sets up the whole concept very well. It has a very deep bass, it has lots of synth and it sounds almost wonderfully eerie and subversive. The way it works together means that it sounds like you are travelling down some form of post-apocalyptic steampunk/cyberpunk sewer system in an impossible craft on the way to do some derring do. It is full of techno laser-y sounds and vocoder enhanced lyrics that don't actually mean much but are part of the melody and no more. The sort of words one could get and shout along to in a club or whilst playing table-top games or just whilst working on an evening. Can you tell I quite like it? Also, the video sets a lovely benchmark standard for the amount of minotaur one needs in a good pop video. This has just enough. Forever more will I pass comment on other music videos with "needs more minotaur".

From there it's onto the wonderfully cleverly titled Bolshy. Now, from most of the reviews I've read most people have gone straight to the standard interpretation of this track and the title. Certainly the lyrics are standard love-centric clubland stuff at first glance and the title suggests a camp play on one of those words that sounds squelchy and out of place. Several musical reviews have made play on the campness of the term and the way that it is played with in the chorus. What I found astonishing is that no one seems to have picked up on the Russian lyrics, which to me hark back to the line of historical reference we see in West End Girls and suggest a play on Russian Revolutionary history, the lyrics work with that just as well. "Where you lead my heart will go... oh Bolshy bolshy bolshy oh". See? Maybe that's just me, but, wait, what's that next track called?

Love is bourgeois construct. Ah. Ah-hum. See, this suggests that they knew exactly what they were doing with their Russian history references. I can't explain this better than I read in another, better, review of this album which was to say that this track is "Adrian Mole, the University years: where a pseudo intellectual worries about why his girlfriend dumped him (probably because he's a pretentious tit), denies the existence of love and then is quite prepared to drop everything and get back with Pandora when she returns". Yep. That about sums it up. But the Marx reference in it suggests that there's a deliberate link to the last track. The video? Needs more minotaur.

Next up is the much darker and deeper synthed Fluorescent that has hints of being more socio-political than it first appears too. It is similar in subject to Je ne sais quoi but there is a distinct undercurrent of Fade to Grey by Visage. This is not a criticism. I like Visage. This is the sort of song that you drown in rather than listen to and do so gladly. It is dark, it is heavily synthed and it is very much proper New Wave with better technology available. I like that, but I suspect, again reading reviews, that people have forgotten there ever was a New Wave. I confess, I missed it first time round by dint of being too young, but having found it in my later years I feel a bit sad no one else seems to have noticed. However, I like this track, one of my favourites as it is arguably the darkest and most sinister. I like it when the Pet Shop Boys are sinister.

I am minded of Dreaming of the Queen in terms of subject matter for Inside a Dream which borrows heavily from Depeche Mode in musical stylings and lyrics. There is a quote from an actual poet in it but, honestly, I can't see anything particularly poetic in it. It is a proper pop song that will likely do well with fans and the charts but is... well, it's driving music. My choice for the weakest track on the album, but it is the Pet Shop Boys so I'll keep listening. It perhaps would have gone better on Yes.

The next track is a cover version from Bruce Springsteen. I'll confess that I have never heard the original and I kind of don't want to. Most of the time the original is better. However, they did this with Where the Streets Have No Name and when I was finally convinced to listen to the U2 original I found them so completely different that they could co-exist happily. I suspect these would do the same. I like the song and find the lyrics about the right level of disturbing and multi-levelled for my tastes. There's one lyric that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end: "We don't measure the blood we've drawn any more / we just stack the bodies outside the door". I can't tell whether the song is supposed to be about post-apocalyptic journeys, the coming apocalypse, a comment on society or a tragic end-of-the-affair piece or all of the above. I like it and I like the way its done.

The next track, Shouting in the Evening, is full of vocoder enhanced lyrics. It is hard and it is heavy. When Tennant was interviewed he regularly referred to the whole album as 'banging' and, to my mind, this is the track that claims that boast effectively. Not one of my favourites but it is a very good track, the sort of track to belt out on the way home from a frustrating day at work or just because you can. Coming after the last track it makes an interesting contrast too, which I do like. In terms of rhythm it picks up from Axis at the beginning as we're back on that journey in a dark future. I kept wanting it to drop into dubstep but it never does. Maybe someone will remix a dubstep version. In fact, that is the one regret I have with this album, they never quite go into dubstep. I'd like to hear their take on it.

Thursday is the crowd-pleaser on the album. On the face of it it's a very simple pop tune with a sinple story about love and trust and all that carry on. I can't help but feel that it's another track in the mould of Shameless where it's actually serious and taking the piss all at the same time. Of course, I am a big fan, so I could be making more of it than is actually there. The fact that they have the lyrics stating that the weekend starts on a Thursday night suggests to me that they are definitely being more playful and subversive than the song seems to suggest overall. In any event, they have done a good 'why people go clubbing' song again and I like the way it makes me feel when I'm working. Good beat and a good use of spoken lyrics, like with REM's Outsiders, that allows me to enjoy it when I'm doing something else.

Finally we have Vocal, whose video shows me how much I missed in the early 90s. And that's about all I have to say about that.

If you've listened to any of these and liked them then I can heartily recommend the whole album. At 48 minutes it doesn't seem much bang for your buck, but this is the sort of album you can safely wang on repeat without shuffle and enjoy for a good few hours at once. I will likely overplay it in the next few weeks, I know I will, but it has already paid for itself a few times over. If you want an interesting audio journey then get Controlling Crowds by Archive but if you want some heavy synth pop to keep productivity going then get this album. It's fun and it's synth, nuff said.

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