The Pet Shop Boys, often seen as the articulate deep thinkers of British electronic Pop music return with their 13th Studio offering entitled Super on their x2 label. Super again sees the duo work with acclaimed producer Stuart Price after 2013s Electric was so well received by fans and critics alike. Written in London and Berlin and produced in Los Angeles, Super boasts 12 tracks of purely electronic compositions, that to quote Neil Tennant “We want to make it Electric but more so” meaning that they wanted this album to sound more electronic than their previous offering. Never ones to keep themselves away from their writing for any extended periods Tennant and his partner in crime Chris Lowe will also see themselves at London’s Royal Opera House in July for a run of four dates showcasing this album live with their Inner sanctum shows.
The boys will see Super hit the shelves on April fools day and embarking on the first listen with the opening album track Happiness getting us under way one could not help feeling that we had become the victim of an April Fools prank! What is this, PSB meets Aviici? The track starts in the expected electro fashion with some distorted vocal and punchy beats before Tennant starts singing “Its a long way to happiness/a long way to go/but i’m gonna get there boy the only way I know“, the latter line sung with a Country and Western twang backed by some annoying harpsichord type melody. That given the actual music is particularly well done with some fine example of house styling only to be ruined by the overtly irritating vocal.
The first single from the album The Pop Kids sets us back to the level expected from the Pets grinding out a 90s house melody with cool lyrics not unlike something 1990’s Behaviour would have featured, but the standard slips again on Twenty- Something with its annoying pitter patter beat and melody that reminisces of dodgy Eastern European eurovision entries. Groovy follows with a heavy dance beat and a few crowd samples thrown in for party atmosphere and comes across as an extremely pleasant feel good track that certainly evokes those summer holiday partying memories. Following this The Dictator Decides commences Tennant and Lowes melancholic brilliance, missing from the last album but produced quite spectacularly here with warm colourful electronics and a softly spoken vocal that’s as easily as identifiable as themselves but doesn’t fall into the repetitive sound that has been directed at them on previous occasions.
The final 30 seconds of this track with it’s deep bass and choral beauty showcase’s the brilliance that this band are still obviously capable of. Pazzo! Explodes into electronic life with 2 and three quarter minutes of dance heaven throwing in a bit of a euro-disco bassline with simplified electro noises and distorted remarks.
The first track aired from Super, the club inspired Inner Sanctum features next with its marauding bass and Matt Darey, Beautiful styled synth backdrop that threatens to erupt into a Trance like crescendo but unfortunately just falls short of the the euphoric high that would be so common place in a Super-club like Berlin’s Berghain. Undertow is PSB by numbers and nothing out of the ordinary, but pleasant all the same if not slightly generic. Following this comes the ballad styled Sad Robot World which pitches the high range of Tennants voice against some very analogue downbeat keys. Slightly crestfallen in sound style, it doesn’t disappoint and is a solid electro ballad. Say It to Me follows, kicking in with a Balearic beat prior to emerging as another house styled track this time in the guise of Italian Euro-dance act Livin’ Joy sporting similarities to their anthemic chorus accompaniment featured on 94’s dance floor filler ‘Dreamer’. A driving synthetic bass rhythm powers Burn along with some stereotypical booming Pet Shop Boys Orchestral pomp.
All very familiar sounding until you find this intertwined with an awkward sounding electronic riff that although unconventional works well and leads the song into something captivating. Into Thin Air finishes the album with its drum heavy backbone and engulfing electronics ever building as the song grows. Calmly sung and cleverly layered this mid tempo creation is as clever as it is composed showing some excellent production throughout.
Super is not going to be regarded as a Pet Shop Boys classic by any stretch and will divide the fan base with its retro house styling and minimal vocal output. If this were juxtaposed with say Electric for instance then no one would bat an eyelid but, comparing to much of their back catalogue, classics like Actually, Introspective and Behaviour this would come across like a remix album and not something that Tennant and Lowe have meticulously articulated for months on end fine tuning every detail until nearing perfection. The thing about this album is that its a decent listen and at times very enjoyable, but Super is…… just not quite that!