Pet Shop Boys - "Elysium" (Parlophone)

Pet Shop Boys – “Elysium” (Parlophone)

Pet Shop Boys Elysium album cover

Neil Tennant (vocals) and Chris Lowe (keyboards) are Pet Shop Boys. Now into their fourth decade of performing under this title, they are 58 and 52 years old respectively. Just like August Darnell, George O’Dowd and Bob Ritchie the advancing years render their stage names vaguely ridiculous. That said, Pet Shop Men clearly does not have the same resonance to it and in a certain context it probably sounds fairly sinister too. So Pet Shop Boys it is then and therein lies the secret of their longevity; everything in their world has ultimately stayed the same. They hit upon a winning formula early doors and have continued to mine that rich vein of electro-dance pop ever since. You would think that after thirty years in the business, a plethora of silver, gold and platinum discs later and a collective mantelpiece overflowing with music industry awards that seam would have been all but stripped bare, but on first hearing Elysium you sense there may still be some mineral left in them there hills. But once you excavate below the surface of this their eleventh studio album there is sadly very little precious metal to be found.

Age, the passing of time and 50 million album sales worth of success has bloated Pet Shop Boys to a point of weariness and complacency. Perhaps recognizing this waning in their collective powers Lowe has spoken about Elysium as being “the infirm album”. Where once they led, he and Tennant now seem happy to just merely follow. The music that they once pioneered they now parody. On the opening “Leaving”, Tennant drifts through a dreamy piece of synth flotsam that wouldn’t have been out of place on a mid-eighties Electronic album. The glory days of Actually, Behaviour and Very, even the more recent return to form of Yes do now seem to be firmly behind them. Tennant appears to acknowledge as much on “Your Early Stuff”. Whilst he is presumably being ironic there is much truth when he reminisces “I still like some of your early stuff”. Even “Winner”, with the euphoric wind of the Olympics still in its sails, speaks of “living in the past”. It is a lyrical theme Tennant returns to time and again throughout Elysium as he reflects on life, death and an unspecified future. Interpreted differently it could be seen as a valediction. And if it is to be a farewell, it will be made all the more sad once you finally reach “Memory of the Future” and “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin” and the stark realisation of what could have been. Over the album’s two strongest melodies, the first of which is a glittering, spectral feast of synthetics, the second a widescreen cinematic soundscape Tennant first intones that “it has taken me all of my life to find you” and then “this is our last chance for goodbye”. His words may be telling us that Pet Shop Boys have finally reached a point of self-actualisation or an acceptance that there is now no place left to go.


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