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‘Super’: A Dance Classic That’s Pet Shop Boys… But More So!
In Depth

‘Super’: A Dance Classic That’s Pet Shop Boys… But More So!

With its powerful dance direction, the ‘Super’ album signalled there was no slowing down for Pet Shop Boys in the 2010s.

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Unlucky for some, but not Pet Shop Boys: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s 13th studio album, the appropriately named Super, was the second in a trilogy of works produced by Stuart Price for the UK’s most successful musical duo, and ended up perhaps the most highly regarded. This 12-track set received largely favourable notices from the critics, who were perhaps still blindsided by Pet Shop Boys’ determination to stay close to the strobes. “Shouldn’t they be slowing down by now?” was the undeniable subtext… Though, as ever, Tennant and Lowe were setting their own pace.

If Super was once described by vocalist Tennant as being like its predecessor, the Price-produced Electric, “but more so”, then it also proved to be unequivocally Pet Shop Boys, but more so!

Listen to ‘Super’ here.

The songs: A consolidation of everything great that has gone before

Happiness, the album’s opener, pairs darker dance beats with the duo’s signature lighter hooks. As Super was released in the spring of 2016, during the peak of the DJs-as-rock-titans era, there’s also something of a nod towards the accessible sound of the late Swedish superstar Avicii (Tim Bergling) on this track.

Despite keeping their focus fixed – as ever – on the future, Super’s most obvious moment, lead single The Pop Kids, seizes on a radio-friendly strand of Pet Shop Boys’ most familiar DNA, self-referencing riffs on a narrative that’s affixed to a synth-pop frame recognised by all. Both The Pop Kids, which topped the Billboard dance listings, and Super’s next single, Twenty-something, are worthy companions to material from Pet Shop Boys’ UK No.1 album, 1993’s seminal Very. Twentysomething also reunites the pair with their on-off Latin influences, which were at their most explicit across 1996’s Bilingual, and came with a strong video from American filmmaker Gavin Filipiak.

You can rely on Tennant and Lowe’s smart observation of less obvious themes, and we see politicians in the firing line on the glacial The Dictator Decides. In contrast, songs such as the hypnotic Groovy and the nagging Pazzo! offer some of the strongest dance material the duo have recorded across their lengthy career.

Another club cut, Inner Sanctum, was released as a 12” to support a series of nights Pet Shop Boys performed at London’s Royal Opera House that summer, ahead of a world tour. The decision on Super’s final single, issued in September 2016, was split between the euphoric banger Undertow and the undeniable pop earworm Say It To Me. With its decidedly throwback musical construction, Say It To Me, co-written with long-time Madonna collaborator Price, triumphed and was issued on CD and vinyl. (A plan to issue the majestic Burn as a limited vinyl release in 2017, to support more British tour dates, was abandoned after a tragic fire at a California warehouse dance party.)

There’s little downtime throughout Super, though Sad Robot World slows the pace briefly, while album closer Into Thin Air buzzes with restless energy – a footnote of unfinished business that adds credibility to the idea that Super is the second chapter of a defined trilogy, the final part of which, Hotspot, would be issued in January 2020.

The release: “They seem to hang on in there”

Committing to three successive albums with Price as producer appeared to allow Pet Shop Boys the chance to curate their output in an even more considered way. Coming three years after Electric, Super further consolidated Pet Shop Boys’ retreat from the icy, California cool of 2012’s Elysium. If Electric was largely a mission-statement – a glorious return to the duo’s electronica roots – then its follow-up is, in part, retrenchment: a consolidation of everything great that has gone before. Pet Shop Boys have always been careful, often retaining tracks for years if there’s no obvious fit; the long-term partnership with Price helped them do this to a new standard.

Released on 1 April 2016, Super did strong business – a successive Top 3 placing in the UK (the duo’s 13th consecutive Top 10 studio album) and a Top 60 position in the US, while also topping Billboard’s dance/electronica chart. There were few new audiences to win over with Super, but that was missing the point. Neil Tennant frames the album perfectly in Pet Shop Boys’ 2017 Annually, an official book produced each year for the pair’s loyal followers:

“If I was a member of the public… I probably wouldn’t think that much of [Pet Shop Boys] really. Unless I was some sort of fan,” he wrote. “But I’d notice, and I might be quite impressed by the fact that they seem to hang on in there.” Super was many things, not least among them the sound of Pet Shop Boys defiantly hanging on in there…

Buy Pet Shop Boys vinyl at the Dig! store.

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