Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sumptuous - much like the place itself must be

This past week saw the release of Pet Shop Boys' 10th disc "Elysium" (Well, 10th regular studio album amongst the rest of their oeuvre).  The title being synonymous with a conception of the afterlife may lead fans to wonder - is this it? 

"Leaving" that aside for the second, that song sets the tone right away - an elegiac slow-to-mid tempo burner that crawls into the back of your head and stays there.  Reflective, mourning lost loves, recognizing how those lost influence us so long after they're gone.  Just as "Behaviour" was more quiet and reflective than it was packed with 4-on-the-floor burners, so too is "Elysium" for the most part.  "Invisible" brings a little of the moodier bits of "Fundamental" back to the fore - with all the metaphors about how the song's protagonist used to be the life of the party - it keeps up with the theme of the album as a whole - the looking forward to life after the party is over - an exhaustion, if you will.  A satisfaction - but a satisfaction flecked with bits of melancholy just the same.  "Winner" is pleasant enough fluff, and ended up being a fine Olympics montage piece, but is definitely this disc's weakest track.  Tennant himself described it as "our boyband song, it even has a key change."  He's 100% correct - it's a bit off the beaten path for them, but not in the most interesting way.

"Your Early Stuff" kicks off one of the snarkier moments - spinning goofball comments they've heard from the mouths of cabbies into a gleeful rip on misinformed people who think Pet Shop Boys are "Just that bouffant-hairdo-having 80's band who had that one hit called west end what was it again?"  This is an idea that benefits from a short song - long enough to make the joke, but not overstaying its welcome.  "A face like that" picks up the pace a bit with some light fluff, which quickly gives way to more in the sarcastic/snarky vein  with "Ego Music."  Tennant has stated this isn't a rip on anyone specific - mostly a jab at self-important bragging in the age of social media.  Even so, it's a track that works well when imagined as a goof on Lady Gaga and other pop stars cut from the same cloth.  Whatever you might think of it, it's a fun lark to round out the midsection.

"Breathing Space" keeps up with the relaxed, lounging-on-the-couch feeling - and again hints with the sly wink this band is known for - that they might just be happy to close the curtains on this whole music thing - or are they?  
"Hold On" with its soaring bass chorus, aspires to be a latter-day "Go West" - at least in terms of mood and feeling.  Later on "Give it a go" opens up with chords that sound like a distorted echo of Seals and Crofts - strange thing to hear in a Pet Shop Boys song, but it works.  During a "Nightlife" tour stop, Tennant did a few songs with just him on stage strumming a guitar.  This one would do well with a similar setup - albeit replacing the guitar with a grand piano.

"Requiem in denim and leopardskin" is probably one of the bounciest funeral pieces you'll ever hear.  It comes off in some ways as the synth-pop distant cousin of Lit's "Right This Time" - it's a celebration of a life full of screwups and disaster, but also full of happiness and triumph - a life well lived in spite of all the down moments.  Again, it is hard not to draw parallels to the whispered metaphors of death, the afterlife, endings, and all that - to an album that may be their swan song.  If it turns out to be that, it finds them going out on top.

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