For their 11th studio collection – and their final release on the legendary Parlophone label – Pet Shop Boys Neil Tenant and Chris Lowe had a clear ambition: “to make an LA album”. Recording in the US city, with its abundance of seasoned session musicians and access to the best producers on the planet, might likely have delivered a set with universal appeal, but what emerged as Elysium offered a more idiosyncratic reflection of where Pet Shop Boys found themselves in the early 2010s.
Listen to ‘Elysium’ here.
Uplifting melancholia and a steady divergence from pop
While crafting some demos during downtime as the support act on Take That’s mammoth Progress Live tour of 2011, and dusting off a further number from earlier writing sessions, a theme started to emerge: “something downbeat” is how Chris, with characteristic bluntness, defines it (though he has also offered “smoother” and “reflective”). The duo claimed influence from Kanye West’s then recent 808s & Heartbreaks and the soundtrack to Drive, by composer Cliff Martinez, with both shaping the sound of the 15 tracks that were cut with producer Andrew Dawson, who had previously engineered the Kanye record.
Twelve of the songs the trio worked on made it to Elysium, which was launched with the single Winner (issued just as London was gearing up to launch the 2012 Olympic Games). The song had briefly – and surprisingly – been conceived as a track that One Direction might enter the Eurovision Song Contest with but, when that ambitious concept lost momentum, Andrew Dawson’s rich instrumentation accelerated it to the starting line of the Elysium promotional marathon.