Review: Elysium – Pet Shop Boys

I was able to get an advanced copy of the new Pet Shop Boys album, Elysium, a few weeks prior to release which takes place in Canada on September 11th.

At first the album did not grab me.  Taking it home, putting it on the stereo while I was cleaning up in the kitchen, it just didn’t capture my attention.  At one point I went as far to say, “This is the worst Pet Shop Boys album ever.”

When you travel as much as I do for work, you look for consistent things to help keep you sane.  As of writing this review, I will have been out of the country 15 weeks out of 22 with many more to come.  This gives me a lot of time to listen to music on the plane, in the lounge, at the gate, and at the gym.  So I’ve had a lot of time to list and analyze the album.

Just like Behaviour, which is such a deep album, Elysium, to me, is very much the follow up.  Instead of begin written in Germany, it was written in Los Angeles – who knew that such opposite places on the planet could evoke similar emotion updated, 20 years later?

Leaving – The third single, if you count the early release of Invisible the first release, a song about hope after a break up, almost brutal reality.  Surprisingly upbeat and catchy despite the chants of “Our love is dead”. Don’t play this song if you’re on a date.

Invisible – Very trippy, dub step. The video for this was completely brilliant, and a throwback to the Very days.  Admittedly, it reminds me of music played in the 80s at my orthodontist’s office, and definitely a track that belongs on Behaviour.  I’m not exactly sure if there is a hidden message to the song, but it describes the story of a socialite who has realized they’re “Invisible”.  I had thought that the song was a song about the double edged sword seeing that as a somewhat positive thing in their life, and the negative aspect of people who grow older being somewhat invisible.  It really is much more the latter case. “Look at me the absentee, disappearing finally, goodbye.  Is it magic or the truth, strange psychology or justified, by the end of youth.  Can you hear me, can you see me, am I really here?  I’m invisible.”

Winner – Many people think this written for London 2012, but it wasn’t.  It was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest.  Who can’t get caught up in Eurovision?  I know I did at my first experience in 1996 – and yes, I rooted for Gina G at the time; and I got caught up with it in Uruguay when I had nothing else to do.  I would love to see the Boys support a new artist by playing backup for them at the Eurovision Song Contest as a    Amazingly upbeat for Pet Shop Boys, and I love the exposure they give the trans community, and specifically the MTF community, in their video.  Kudos for trans awareness!

Your Early Stuff – “It’s bad in a good way if you know what I mean” – A response to things taxi drivers have said to the boys as they tour around.  It very much reminds me of, “Yesterday when I was mad” from Very, toned down.  “They say that management  never used to pay, unless you got ripped off back in the day.  Anyway, what’s your name?”

Face Like That – If you’re looking for the stomper track, this is it. Pure Pet Shop Boys synth pop, reminiscent of tracks from Please taken to the next level, maybe “Two Divided by Zero”.  This would have me dancing in my hotel room on loud.  Love the bass line and the drum machine.  “With a face like that how couldn’t I want you, With a face like that  why wouldn’t I fall in love with you”

Breathing Space – This is my favourite slow track on the album.  Being an introvert and with how much I have had to be ‘on’ being the face of the company I work for in front of clients and the two companies we acquired recently; I can totally relate to the story and message behind the track.  The need to take time for yourself when you’ve been non-stop go go go.  I’d be proud singing this at karaoke.  I love the strings on this track.  “I stop for some breathing space, divert from the public place, return to a private place, I know it’s there just in case I gotta get out.”

Ego Music – A response to stupid things said by people who are public figures for all the wrong reasons; very similar to “How can you expect to be taken seriously” but more general rather than a specific artist.    I really dislike how this track is put together, unfortunately.  The lyrics is what makes this track shine and they make me laugh my ass off.  Here are some samples:

“I am my own demographic, what does that say about me?”

“I think whats fascinates people about me / And I’m really grateful to my fans / Is that I”m totally  fearless / People really get that / in the sea of negativity  / I’m a statue of liberty / That’s why people love me / It’s humbling”

The way Neil says all this all deadpan is even more hilarious.

Hold On – I think this is the first song written by anyone that pays homage to the recession being felt worldwide, and especially in Europe.  I thought the virtual backup singers during the album launch concert in Berlin were hilarious and brilliant.  The ultimate cost cutting measure for a band?  I’m not saying that to be critical of Pet Shop Boys, they are feeling the crunch – have been for years as the music industry implodes with trying to figure out digital initiatives.  This track was inspired by Handel.

Give it a go – This feels like a track from Release, very west coast, maybe even Beach Boys-esque?  The song is also another practical look at relationships with that brutal reality and honesty element, while being uplifting. “I’m not saying that you can’t find yourself someone better, Oh no, but in the meantime why not give it a go?”  I think all those guys looking for the next best thing in a relationship should give this song a good hard listen.  I really do like this track and I could see some really great dance remixes being created.

Memory of the Future – In addition to Winner and Face Like That, I see this track as the other big dance track on the album and almost a stomper.  Some great chord progressions on this one.  It’s up there with “This used to be the future” as found on the “Etc…” extra disc that came with limited edition of “Yes”, which I thought was a brilliant track and well worth tracking down.  “It’s taken me all of my life to find you”

Everything Means Something – This song suffers from the same issue as Ego Music.  It starts very slow and not all that inspiring, but the chorus is really beautiful.

Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin – OH MY!  This totally takes me back to late 70s, early 80s television programming.  Visions of Charlie’s Angels combined with Dallas, Liz Taylor and even a bit of James Bond.  Total shag carpet, wood panelling, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, Playboy and LAX. The fabulousness, the opulence.  Even if I didn’t know the album was recorded in Los Angeles I would have had these visions.  It should be a theme song to a new TV show.  This will become a hit during concerts.  Who of Neil or Chris will wear the Leopardskin print?

This album is definitely not Yes, and it’s not as heavy politically as Fundamentalism

What about the Winner EP?  What a great set of tracks!  I’ve already talked to Winner itself.  Here are my thoughts on the others:

A certain “Je ne sais quoi” – I wish this were on Elysium, but I’m glad this stomper was on the Winner EP as it helped to build support and excitement on the album.  It should have been released as a single.  “In Berlin your’e dancing to techno, before you catch the first flight to Moscow, you know your way around an espace d’affair”  “In Teran they’ve known your for years, despite of clerical fears, they think you understand  their point of view. In the old days it would have been Rome, but now Beijing’s a second home, it started in the 80s just Bertelucci and you.”

The Way Through The Woods – A cute song that feels like it should be part of a musical.  I’m wondering if it was a track cut from the ballet score the Boys wrote.  Love the strings on this track, and the techno dance ending.   Definitely a stomper towards the end.

I started a joke – A cute track.  Who has the laugh in the end?

All in all, a great album and series of tracks from Pet Shop Boys.

Update: I have to say this is probably one of the best, if not the best Pet Shop Boys album to date.  I did go back and listen to each of the albums from Nightlife onwards, and I have to say, all of their more recent work does stand up next to their earlier work.

Be sure to check out the Deluxe Edition download for an interview with Neil and Chris by David Walliams.  It’s quite a neat look at the album.

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