The first time I sent Dan a message it was, perhaps fittingly enough, to complain about something. I think he took pride in being something of a professional curmudgeon, though one who definitely believed that he was deeply misunderstood and the pop culture world that fascinated him was, in fact, to blame. I saw a kindred spirit there and I’ll forever go to war for a critic’s right to pour scorn on something that they believe deserves it. By the same token, when Dan loved something, his affection and enthusiasm for the subject shined through, even if you simply couldn’t understand some of his opinions - Elvis Costello, Dan, really? The guy did what any decent writer should do; he provoked a reaction. I was greatly looking forward to rolling my eyes at future missives as he grew into the role of elder statesman pundit, and I’m sad that I won’t get to see that come to pass.
During Andy Murray’s straight sets Wimbledon final win against Novak Djokovic, I repeatedly warned anyone who would listen that writing the defeated Serbian off as 'mentally done in' was akin to Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor’s relieved hug when that tanker driven by Arnie crashed and exploded, apparently incinerating the T-101 (spoiler alert: that terminator is out there... and it absolutely will not stop). Turns out that when I thought the Pet Shop Boys were done as a relevant pop band, I should have listened to my own advice.
Last year’s Elysium sounded like the death throes of the most important pop act of a generation (laugh if you will, but they were genuine pioneers of 'sample' music and Actually is as good as synth pop gets). Tennant and Lowe sounded disconnected, the former’s vocal lines seemingly belonging to different songs to the ones the latter was playing. The lyrics veered between banal and embarrassing – “Those old videos look pretty funny/What's in it for you now, need the money?”, and the album was clogged by beige mid-tempo ballads, such as lead single ‘Winner’, which was apparently inspired by Blandmaster Flash Gary Barlow whilst the duo were on tour with Take That. With that and their increasing predilection for side projects, it seemed like the Pet Shop Boys weren’t really worth getting excited about anymore.
‘We did write several “up”, four-on-the-floor style songs, and we are planning to record them very soon’, Tennant told me shortly after Elysium’s release. I was sceptical, wondering why they didn’t choose to include more songs in the vein of the fantastic ‘Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin’, but then if Electric is these songs then it’s brilliant enough to prompt a ‘fuck me, who cares?!’
Five-and-a-half minute opener ‘Axis’ is enough to immediately make anyone who has ever had an interest in pop music emit squealing “buh?!” noises, like a goldfish on MDMA. Rather than sound like two guys in their fifties messing around with some expensive equipment to recapture their past glories, it’s strikingly modern; “I want your energy” goes the heavily modulated vocal, needlessly when they have so much of their own to imbue. It’s absurdly furious dance music, sounding more like Squarepusher than any sane person could ever have expected. ‘Flourescent’ (sic) is all woozy bass, ‘Inside a Dream’ gives us robotic machine dance music in the mould of Kraftwerk or Daft Punk (that’s Homework-era Daft Punk, not the stuff you internet lot have been unfairly moaning about), and ‘Shouting in The’ is choppy insanity, like Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ might sound shortly before having a heart attack on the club floor brought about by a Red Bull overdose.
Most pleasingly of all, Tennant – always a great and underrated singer – is back to his best here. Arguably the album’s highlight is ‘Love is a Bourgeois Concept’, a sweet and tender vocal that humanises lyrics that should really be too academic for a love song but thanks to him aren’t. When he sings “I’ve been hanging with various riff raff” he could easily be nodding towards this whole-hearted recommitment to being a Pet Shop Boy. Even better is ‘The Last To Die’, which is reworked into their own style but loses none of the energy and impact of Bruce Springsteen’s original. Oh yeah, they do a Bruce Springsteen cover.