The Pet Shop Boys will likely write effectively rousing electro-pop until they’re physically unable to. Since 1986, The Pet Shop Boys have released a new album at least once every three or four years, not one lingering dud among their twelve full-lengths. The late ’80s and early ’90s introduced Pet Shop Boys to the masses, with classics like Actually and Behavior showing the duo’s slick grasp of somewhat minimalist yet potentially expansive electro-pop compositions, always with a bevy of hooks. The ’90s and onward showed more exploration while retaining infectiousness, 1993’s Very showcased a grandiose and soaring sound fit for clubs and discotheques, while 2002’s Release touted a more reserved yet elegantly atmospheric sound. The last decade has found The Pet Shop Boys fully aware of what they do best, with successes like Fundamental showing both a grasp of massive club gyrations and bittersweet symphonic ballads. As their previous album Elysium represented some of their safest yet most inconsistent material, it’s satisfying that the follow-up, Electric, is a bold display of their club roots, and potentially The Pet Shop Boys’ best release since 1996’s Bilingual.
The successful direction of Electric may be best represented by “Inside a Dream”, a wonderfully twinkling gem that traverses from industrialized club-based build-ups into a glistening pop chorus, the latter providing a moment that’s comparable in quality to Pet Shop Boys’ best hooks. The hooks on Electric aren’t as unavoidable or frequent as some previous releases, but Electric represents some of the best build-ups toward them, along with the most effectively engaging atmospheric make-ups on the duo’s résumé. “Inside a Dream” straddles between two different worlds, one a relatively anxious collection of arpeggiated synth pushes and the other a blue-skied utopia with twinkling keys. “Thursday”, with its string additions and hip-hop interlude, finds similar solace in stylistic meshing. The striking balance between various approaches makes both “Inside a Dream” and “Thursday” remarkably stellar and contagious efforts. They represent the stellar balance on Electric, an album that shows the duo with a revitalized aim toward diverse soundscapes.
While tracks like “Inside a Dream”, “Thursday”, and single “Axis” show beauty through parallel contrasts, The Pet Shop Boys have not abandoned their knack for immediately consuming beauty. A gargling synth arpeggio leads the glistening “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”, which plays with a much more optimistic and idealistic melody than the title suggests; its template is forceful yet gracefully striking. Squiggly sci-fi synths flow down the composition sporadically with clever accompaniments, though it’s not until the emergence of the first chorus – right after the three-minute mark – that the track reveals its truly gripping concept; the re-arrival of the initial verse’s beat is resoundingly effective, as are the new blooping synth arrangements. “Shouting in the Evening”, one of two tracks on Electric under five minutes, captures similar immediate beauty, before attempting a series of grating synth sounds that remind – surprisingly – of a Skrillex/Daft Punk collaboration. “What a feeling” vocal samples interject for a moment of tranquility, before blasting again into the rave-induced energy. “Shouting in the Evening” is certainly a head-scratcher, but it has a sort of drawing novelty that’s ideal for its short running time.
“The Last to Die” takes a bouncier pop route, all while retaining a long-flowing synth pad that envelops the track as a pulsating bass-accompanied bridge brings a supreme degree of infectiousness. “Another day goes down as the evening turns, and I hold you here in my heart as things fall apart,” Tennant croons over minimal reverb, enthusiastically aligning with the track’s beautiful flip-flopping between ambient retrospectives and club-bound dance pulsations. “The Last to Die” is one of the most structurally tame efforts on Electric, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a tour-de-force success. The same concept applies to “Fluorescent”. Although it relies more on atmosphere than the bouncy pop vibes of “The Last to Die”, The Pet Shop Boys successfully venture across the risks on “Fluorescent”, a six-minute epic that features a mechanical build-up with sighing percussion and darkly distorted synths. There are several twists throughout, like an enchanted verse transition in the final two minutes, but like “The Last to Die” it represents one of the more structurally linear efforts on the album, despite its advantageous atmospheric construction.
Electric is certainly a fascinating release from The Pet Shop Boys, who show a fondness for club and even rave on specific tracks, but never abandon the glistening hooks that are rightly renowned for. “Shouting in the Evening” may be more novelty than some listeners will prefer, but overall Electric is a cohesive listening experience marked by hook-laden club-pop transitions (“Inside a Dream”, “Thursday”) and stellar industrial pieces of intricate dance (“Fluorescent”, “Bolshy”). The Pet Shop Boys continue to school contemporary electro-pop hopefuls with their striking stylistic balance and limitless creation of hooks, and listeners can hope they remain in the instructor role for quite some time.