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‘Electric’: The Story Behind Pet Shop Boys’ Charged Return To The Dancefloor
In Depth

‘Electric’: The Story Behind Pet Shop Boys’ Charged Return To The Dancefloor

Almost 30 years into their career, Pet Shop Boys unleashed their strongest dance set to date with the ‘Electric’ album.

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The speed at which Pet Shop Boys planned to release their 12th album – just ten months after Elysium – had been teased, but largely caught even the most attentive of fans off-guard. Issued in the summer of 2013, the Electric album was in part a consequence of its predecessor’s more measured pace. “When we decided to make Elysium into a reflective-sounding album, we always knew we had quite a few much more uptempo dance songs and that there would be a dance album following it, possibly quite soon,” vocalist Neil Tennant explained to Literally, then the duo’s fan magazine.

Listen to the best of Pet Shop Boys here.

The backstory: A determined club record, abandoning moderation

What emerged as Electric was the first of a well-received trilogy of studio projects helmed by Stuart Price, who had first made his name as a member of Les Rythmes Digitales and then gone on to produce megahits with Madonna (Confessions On A Dance Floor), The Killers (Day And Age) and Kylie Minogue (Aphrodite). Electric speaks to that pedigree and is a determined club record, abandoning the more moderated balance of pop and dance music Pet Shop Boys had navigated on all of their studio album’s from 1986’s Please to date.

The songs: “Probably the most euphoric piece of music we’ve ever produced”

Tennant would describe Electric’s launch song, Axis, as a “sort of single”, reasoning that radio would steer clear of its hedonistic intensity. He was right. The track, which Chris Lowe says was partly inspired by an Italo-disco club night in Berlin, is strong. “It’s a very rare occasion of us writing a song after we’ve been out to dinner and to a club, because we normally work daytime and this was a night-time writing experience,” he said. As opening statements go, Axis was certainly on the money.

The album’s next song, Bolshy, also has a Berlin genesis, starting life as part of a writing project about Alan Turing (what became the group’s 2014 BBC Proms feature, A Man For The Future), but ending up on Electric as a kooky disco earworm, with plenty of nods back to those 80s club sounds Pet Shop Boys – and their fans – adore. Love Is A Bourgeois Construct is perhaps Electric’s highlight and ended up as its third single, featuring as it does elements that underpin many of the best Pet Shop Boys songs: an arms-in-the-air, anthemic melody and one of those masterful storytelling lyrics (this time about the futility of making sacrifices for the rat race) that Britain’s most successful musical duo has made its own. If the album needed to provide a quick breather, this is it.

The pace doesn’t lessen for long. Fluorescent owes much to Stuart Price’s outstanding production, and there are more echoes of 80s electronica threading through the track. Inside A Dream has one of that decade’s niggly synth riffs that sticks in your head for weeks, and is another strong example of the experimentation that represents the best of the Electric album. Perhaps the fact that Tennant and Lowe decided to issue the record on their own label, x2, meant that some convention could be sidelined in pursuit of a more carefree proposition and some timely boundary-pushing.

A take on Bruce Springsteen’s The Last To Die is Electric’s most surprising moment. Though Pet Shop Boys have form with covers – Elvis Presley’s Always On My Mind and Village People’s Go West, to name but two – Springsteen remains a surprising muse. The original version was recorded for The Boss’ 2007 album, Magic, but this anti-war song was reconstructed by Pet Shop Boys and Stuart Price with a hypnotic four-to-the-floor lift and synths replacing the guitars.

If The Last To Die takes liberties with its source material, Shouting In The Evening further flouts convention, creating a rave-like hypnotism that sounds very much like what happened in the studio – Lowe and Price outdoing themselves on post-production duties while Tennant was elsewhere. Balearic synth flutters twinkle lightly across the production, but the song’s heart is decidedly hardcore.

Singer and rapper Example joins the duo on Thursday, issued as a single. Its unusual pop structure has some hooky touches, including a nostalgic nod to fan favourite Paninaro, with Tennant reciting a list of days – something he says he immediately regretted recording, but which arguably adds something special to what is already a strong track.

Vocal closes Electric and is arguably the centre of gravity for the whole record. One of the first tracks to be written for the album, it’s a glowstick-and-poppers headrush of epic proportions which Lowe believes owes much to its producer. “Stuart made this probably the most euphoric piece of music we’ve ever produced,” he said. Vocal ended up as an encore on the tour that supported the record – testament to the song’s infectious energy and strength when pitched against any number of other Pet Shop Boys classics.

The release and legacy: Adding power to Pet Shop Boys’ hit formula

Released on 15 July 2013, Electric may have fewer reflective moments than can be found on other Pet Shop Boys albums, but those that are here represent the dark corners of dancefloors, where melancholy can sometimes fester if you don’t drag yourself into the light.

Electric added power to Pet Shop Boys’ hit formula by keeping things focused and upbeat. Receiving a strong critical reaction, it made the UK Top 3 and became the pair’s highest-charting record stateside in 20 years. Almost 30 years on from their breakthrough, Pet Shop Boys’ legacy continued to shine bright.

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