24 January 2020
I haven’t done this before – review an album on its day of release. It’s also the first release from 2020 that I’ve bought. I’ve been a fan of Pet Shop Boys since “West End Girls” came out in the ‘80s and I’ve bought every release since, so I’ve got a fairly good idea of what to expect. Still, I’ve avoided hearing any of the advance singles in order to go into this with fresh ears.
Even so, it’s easy to pick out the lead single “Dreamland” on first listen. Written and performed with fellow Brit synth-poppers Years & Years, it stands out after the first three songs on the album. Not better or worse, just noticeably different, somehow brighter and more vibrant. As soon as the song started I thought, this sounds like a single.
Likewise most recent single, “Monkey Business,” which features an ‘80s dance-pop throwback vibe coupled with ‘90s house synths and ‘70s disco strings. It’s a generation-spanning instant classic, with Tennant speak-shouting his vocals rather than singing them. It gives lie to the album’s prior track, “I Don’t Wanna” wherein Neil sings “I don’t wanna go out dancing,” a great song in its own right, (though I prefer Scissor Sisters’ “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing.”)
The one other single thus far is “Burning The Heather,” the penultimate song on the disc. It’s a pretty song, laid back and sweetly melancholy, musing on age and ships crossing in the night. It is one of the best things they’ve recorded in years (and I like just about everything they put out).
The rest of the album is mostly excellent. It starts out with “Will-O-The-Wisp,” a great dance cut with a tempo and energy to match anything they’ve ever put out – the extended remixes would be great if they get around to it. “You Are The One” is a sad and pretty rumination on love gone by. And the ironically titled “Hoping For A Miracle” is a reflection on the hopelessness of dreams in the face of day-to-day life.
In fact, the only song on the album that doesn’t work – on a first & second listen – is the closer, “Wedding In Berlin.” It is an overtly simplistic, almost insipid, definitely goofy – they mix in unmistakable bits of “The Wedding March,” for cryin’ our loud – celebration of a song that touches, very briefly, on marriage equality laws being the new norm. It’s not so much that the song is bad, but more that it hasn’t any substance to it. Other than this one track, the new disc is a five-star affair. And even “Wedding In Berlin,” with its positive energy and repetitive insistence, I can see growing on me in short order.
This album is another winner for Chris & Neil. I’m already looking forward to future rotations and mixing these tracks into various playlists. Forty years and fourteen albums into their career, it’s not as if Pet Shop Boys are going to release something surprising, but there is definitely comfort and satisfaction in getting what you expect, particularly when it ends up being done so well.