2009 is turning out well for the Pet Shop Boys. Freshly honoured with an Outstanding Achievement award at the Brits, with Yes they’re unleashing their most exuberant album in years. Out with the dark electro and moody themes of 2006′s Fundamental, and back in with the straightforward, uncomplicated pop of their best work. Well, it’s something to take your mind off the credit crunch, isn’t it?
Yes was produced by Xenomania, who were also responsible for co-writing three tracks – other notable guests include Final Fantasy‘s Owen Pallett, on hand with orchestral arrangements, and The Smiths‘ Johnny Marr, back once again with – what else – guitar.
Together they’ve made an upbeat, insanely catchy album that contains barely a dull moment: in short, it has everything we love about the Pet Shop Boys, in spades. Not that this marks any major departure: the album is full of the same ageless, exquisitely produced synth-pop as their past albums, influenced by the dancefloor but just as likely to provide the backing track to a rainy Thursday afternoon as to a Saturday night on the town.
Lyrically, we’re in familiar territory, at least on the surface of things. Neil Tennant’s still just as preoccupied with the ecstasy and pain of falling in and out of love as a hormonal teen, nowhere more so than on Pandemonium, a sunny, arm-waving celebration of the havoc wreaked on everyday life by a new affair. The Way It Used To Be is its flipside, rueing the breakdown of a relationship, but with the minimal trance backing creating a contemplative rather than self-pitying tone.
As ever, though, there are sneaky hidden depths and covert social commentaries within the words about love and loss, just as possible for liberal ears to identify as for conservative ones to ignore. Thus Building A Wall, with its refrain of “not so much to keep you out / more to keep me in” could be about intimacy within relationships, or immigration, or both, or neither, depending on your perspective. Oh, and Chris Lowe provides backing vocals: something that’s been sorely missed.
The old allusions to the superficiality of a fabulous lifestyle are there too, as pertinent today as when they released Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) in the mid ’80s. Love etc, their catchiest single in years, cocks an elegant snook at the high life (“Too much of anything is never enough / Too much of everything is never enough”); whilst Beautiful People, a riot of ’60s proportions that calls to mind Dusty Springfield and even features a harmonica, gently mocks the suburban dream in words which are as identifiably Neil Tennant’s as his dental records: “Is it just a fantasy / To dream about a perfect me?”
Vulnerable is more confessional: on the surface, the chorus of “I’m so vulnerable without you” appears to be about a relationship. Elsewhere though, mentions of the public eye, an inability to live a private life, and worries about fakery unveil a troubled meditation on a star’s dependency on the attention of his fans. None of which gets in the way of the catchiness or accessibility which have long defined the Pet Shop Boys’ output.
Predictably, there are a couple of slower, more reflective moments here (King Of Rome and Legacy), expansive torch songs which take their lead from Broadway musicals, or indeed from the Pet Shop Boys’ own 1987 classic It Couldn’t Happen Here. Compared to the insistence of the rest of the album, their wide-eyed wistfulness can’t help but fall a little flat, but that’s the only quibble.
Yes is a super-concentrated hit of everything there is to enjoy about the Pet Shop Boys: danceable yet everyday pop, with irony behind the warmth and warmth behind the irony. One of their best.