To the casual pop fan, Pet Shop Boys might seem more than a little strange. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe occupy their own little corner of the music universe in which it’s normal for pop groups to write a musical, cover The Village People, work with vocal legends like Liza Minnelli and Dusty Springfield, score an obscure Russian film and perform it live, for free, with a full orchestra in Trafalgar Square.… It goes on: releasing coffee table books of your singularly immaculate album and single artwork, reworking the standard CD case from ugly plastic tile to a tactile objet d’art.
Those who get the Pet Shop Boys know the duo has done these things with class and style so seemingly natural it’s perverse. You’d think they planned every minute detail of their cool factor. Completely underrated, it seems the world is waking up to the duo’s unmatched pop legacy. They were recipients of this years’ Brit 2009 outstanding contribution to music award. Deservedly so.
This year finds Pet Shop Boys in the mood for sunny disco pop, which may seem somehow required following the heavy nature of 2006’s Fundamental which addressed politics, the government and post-9/11 obsessions, sleekly wrapped up in black packaging, an ominous clue to the dark contents within. Tennant and Lowe are so graphically brilliant, courtesy of longtime designer Mark Farrow, that you can almost guess the disposition of material based on the package design. On new disc Yes, it’ s a cheeky, affirmative checkmark.
Disco? Check. Pop melodies? Check. Wit? Check. Irony? Yep. It’s all here on Yes, the most cohesive album since 1993’s epic Very.
But the boys are often excused for wandering off course; their successes in film scoring, musicals and concept albums have left more casual fans wondering exactly where they went. The answer is nowhere, and it’s evident by track two on Yes, as the boys embrace handclaps, slick beats and Tchaikovsky on the pulsing “All over the World.” You can’t help but relive their genius once more: “It’s sincere and subjective/ Superficial and true/ Easy and predictable/ Exciting and new/ To say I want you!”
What could be more deliciously Pet Shop Boys than a pop song about pop?
Production crew Xenomania are a perfect fit for Tennant /Lowe, who knew exactly where to turn when their brand of intelligent dance pop needed a re-do for 2009. It’s worked out beautifully, running the gamut from the 60’s sounding anthem “Beautiful People” to the optimistic, upbeat “More Than A Dream” and the haunting “The Way It Used To Be,” without a doubt one of the best songs they have ever recorded.
Screw the digital age; Yes is almost sequenced like a vinyl record, side one being straightforward pop, side two progressively edging into an experimental climax on closing track “Legacy” in which Tennant proclaims “That Carphone Warehouse boy/ has been on the phone/ He wants to upgrade/ the mobile you own.” Their effectiveness at capturing mundane slices of life in the modern age and translating that into musical transcendence, married with cutting edge technology and superb arrangements make Yes a pure joy from start to finish. They are so utterly unto themselves; In a class of their own, making thinking man’s pop music, that in a world full of Pussycat Dolls, they are literally too sophisticated for most North American ears. Yes.