Review: Pet Shop Boys – Elysium

We so want to hear a Pet Shop Boys album that makes us believe again. We’ve tread this ground before but it bears repeating.

This blogger had formally and wholeheartedly run headlong into the warm embrace of electronic music around 1984/85 after dabbling as any child of the early 80s would have found themselves dabbling (dayum Mr. Softsynth, you old!). When Pet Shop Boys suavely elbowed their way into the scene at the tail end of this Period of Discovery they were a lovely addition to the quiver. While old-lady-bones-dry there was also a dollop of cheek and a sense of post disco fun. Please was genius. Actually was so full of hooks you’d have sworn there was a gnarly fisherman in the mix. All the way through to Behaviour, with its oddly sexless sex and painfully clever wordplay, they knew had to spin a yarn coupled with a gorgeous synth riff.

Then something started to go off the rails. Even the band seemed bored and couldn’t be bothered wedging in any feeling or life to the admittedly consistent and prolific output.

Yet those fond memories linger still, so much so that we yearn for each new album to rekindle that sense of magic. But what was lost has yet to be found again. There is no soul, nor any heart in recent output. Sadly Elysium is no exception. 

Track after track this new album is so much pabulum with not a crackle of energy therein. It’s not only dull, it’s practically comatose. It sounds like they’re not even trying any more. “Leaving”, “Invincible”, “Your Early Stuff”, “Memory of the Future” – song after song of Neal Tennant sounding like he’s asleep and a musical arrangement that was composed by your elderly aunt Bitsey. Lead single “Winner” tries to pump up a modicum of energy but is the wet mop of electronic singles. Nothing here works. It’s not that it’s slow – some of the greatest music ever recorded was thoughtful and drawn – it’s that it’s devoid of the vital organs that drive meaningful music. Even the cover is dull as hell.

We don’t revel in this review. As painful as the handful of listens we’ve gone through, is the thought that what made this band so great is indeed gone forever. It’s with heavy heart that we discard an album that should instead be cause for celebration.

And for all that we’ll still be there for the next one, breath held, hands wrung, eyes wide, in the hopes that they still remember how, and that they still remember why…

Watch: Winner

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8 Responses to “Review: Pet Shop Boys – Elysium”

  1. I do think “Hold On” is a standout track, as just about the worst GD thing anybody has ever recorded anywhere.

  2. Couldn’t disagree more. Leaving, Invisible, Breathing Space and Memory Of The Future are all gorgeous songs. You’re naturally entitled to your opinion, but I can’t help but think of the recent Guardian interview where Neil said that some people are always annoyed that they are not doing eighties-style synthpop anymore. They could, he said, but it would get less and less rewarding. Stuff on Elysium may be mostly out of step with what gets praised in your rather fine blog, but for me this is something of a return to form after the formulaic and vacuous Yes. There is as much soul and heart here as in anything they have done.

  3. This review is spot-on. I keep buying PSB releases, out of loyalty I suppose, and each subsequent album leaves me further disappointed. Even their worst albums typically have 1 or 2 tracks to make them worth owning (on Yes, it was a bonus track called “This Used to be the Future” which was the best song PSB had recorded in a decade), but I can’t find 1 track on Elysium I’d want to listen to again. It’s just a huge yawner. And yes, the Broadway-sounding “Hold On” is the biggest pile of shit in their entire catalog!

    PS: Who do you think he’s singing about on “Ego Music”? I first thought it was about hip-hop culture, but on my second listen (and likely last) it seems like a pretty strong indictment against Lady Gaga.

  4. @Chris Brandon: according to Neil, it’s about the general state of pop music at the moment. He’s not saying any names, but he’s not leaving anybody out either. Which includes Lady Gaga, but in the same interview Neil said that she’s one of the few interesting pop stars left, so perhaps that gets her off the hook.

  5. I hate Release and I do not have a particular love for Behaviour (except that This Must Be the Place…is probably top five PSB songs for me) so I should not like this album, right? Wrong! this album is simply great. Leaving, Invisible are tremendous tracks and a Face Like That shows that it would be a really good idea to do an album full of 80s synth songs.

    • Hello…. Am I allowed to quite like this album ? A little hit and miss but hey, It has a lovely luscious production – and even though I don’t like much Broadway stuff at all and I know I am being shamelessly manipulated but ‘Hold on’ is my favourite track right now. I love those beautiful Black voices. Maybe its just because I need to hold on but – hey whatever it takes.

      I love Neil and Chris for having been the soundtrack to my life – (amongst others….) but the PSB kind of distil the passion of loss and hope for something more.

  6. It’s 26 years since the Pet Shop Boys released their debut album. While we might mourn the fact that the plan to release albums whose titles were intended to form part of a conversation with record shop assistants – “What would you like?” “Pet Shop Boys Please” or “Pet Shop Boys Actually” – only lasted two albums, we should celebrate the fact they’re still making new music.

  7. Sadly, I have to agree with this review. I think this is their worst album to date, by a mile even; it’s so mediocre that it ALMOST sounds as though they’re actively thumbing their noses at the listener. The one notable exception for me is “Everything Means Something”: it brings the drama without being sappy in the least, and I’m always a sucker for a good waltz. And on the bright side, it was only two albums ago, with “Fundamental,” that they put out something I found rather consistently terrific. So, just like Mr. Softsynth, I’m very far from giving up on one of the most prolific and talented synthpop acts in the history of the universe. I’m just hoping and praying that this is merely an aberration as opposed to the beginning of the end.

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