Instead, the twisted disco and warped pop that underpin everything great about ‘Electric’ are a clear sign that the duo is far from done. The addition of Stuart Price on production proves a masterstroke, and ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’ alone is enough to render all existing PSB Greatest Hits albums incomplete.
Dramatic strings, dubby basslines and a quick burst of male voice choir seem a perfectly logical backdrop for one of Neil’s finest lyrics of the album: the track’s a 21st century disco break-up smash.
By the time it shreds itself in the final minute, it’s hard to believe the duo had ever seemed a little tired. They’re reborn, revitalised, and really rather good.
Überhaupt klingt Electric superlässig in seiner cocktailglashaften Klarheit, für die Stuart Price verantwortlich ist. Für die Pet Shop Boys wirken die Laser-Synths und Asthma-303s im ersten Moment wirklich ein bisschen shocky. Doch sie übertreiben es nicht mit dem Klangdesign. Tennant und Lowe kriegen wirklich wieder diese spezifische Pop-Eleganz hin, so wie sonst nur Andy Warhol, wenn er auf einem Polaroid zu sehen war. „Bolshy“ zum Beispiel, das Stückchen Body-Pop am Anfang. „The Last To Die“ macht aus ihrer bittersüßen Symphonie ein bisschen mehr Blockbuster-Action als sonst, „Thursday“ geht mit Glockenspiel-Hookline in die Rollschuh-Disko und plädiert für den Donnerstag als offiziellen Wochenendstart. „Vocal“ ist der glossy Werbeclip für das Singen: die großen Sachen des Lebens halt. Wie immer. Aber mit dem neuen, eigenen Label x2 versprühen die Pet Shop Boys diesen, ja, Esprit.
And so it comes as something of a relief to find Pet Shop Boys not merely releasing a 12th studio album, but promoting it with a photograph featuring Lowe with his head entirely encased in a disco mirrorball. As statements of intent go, it's matched only by Electric's opening track, Axis, five-and-a-half minutes of writhing Italo disco-influenced synth chatter and vocodered vocals issuing a series of dancefloor commands: "Feel the power … plug it in … turn it on."
It's not the last time Electric sounds like Elysium's negative image. The album relocates a duo last seen sniping from the sidelines – albeit very wittily – at a world that seemed to be moving on without them to the centre of the action: usually a nightclub dancefloor, where they're variously to be found celebrating hedonism to a ferocious rhythm track (Shouting in the Evening) or gazing, simultaneously lovestruck and a little troubled, at the younger patrons (Fluorescent). If the lyrics of Vocal appear to be a reaffirmation of the pair's belief in the power of pop music – "expressing passion, explaining pain, aspirations for a better life are ordained … anything I want to say out loud will be sung" – the cover of Bruce Springsteen's The Last to Die, which replaces the hoarse vocals and raging E Street Band with a four-to-the-floor beat and Tennant's careful enunciation, sounds like an expression of pop's adaptability. Like their versions of Always on My Mind and Where the Streets Have No Name, you forget about the incongruity pretty quickly: it now sounds like the Pet Shop Boys wrote it, but the song's emotional impact isn't diminished at all.
Thursday, meanwhile, not only features a gorgeous combination of squelching bass and drifting, misty clouds of synthesisers and the reliable source of joy that is Chris Lowe taking to the microphone in stone-faced, Lancashire-vowelled Paninaro style, but rapper Example, who you might have been forgiven for thinking was precisely the kind of pop star Ego Music took aim at. With his calculating interview talk of "formulas" and "hitting every market" and his awful, self-regarding songs about how much cocaine he takes, he does give the impression of being quite the berk, but there's something striking about how his cocksure verse contrasts with the wistful neediness of Tennant's vocal.
Quite what provoked all this is a matter for debate. Tennant has talked about being struck by a negative iTunes review of Elysium that demanded "more banging and lasers", but it's also worth taking into account the presence of producer Stuart Price, who helmed Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor and is thus something of a past master at returning pop stars of a certain vintage to clubland. Whatever the reason, a band that sounded pretty weary eight months ago sound recharged and inspired. Electric's centrepiece, Love is a Bourgeois Construct, is funny and knowingly clever – it's inspired by a line in David Lodge's novel Nice Work, features references to Karl Marx and Tony Benn and uses the word "schadenfreude" and a musical lift from the 1691 opera King Arthur – as well as insanely danceable and heartbreaking. Even the cheerily belittling cab driver of Your Early Stuff might be forced to concede it's one of the greatest songs of their three-decade career.