placeholderElectric

Released - 2013
Chart peak - UK #3, US #26

The Pet Shop Boys were talking about a new "dance album" even before the preceding studio album, 2012's Elysium, was released. It was almost as if they suspected that many of their longtime fans might be put off by that album's somewhat uncharacteristically somber style and mood, and they wanted to reassure them that, no, they hadn't abandoned the dance-inflected music that had defined so much of their career. They continued this mild tease in the months that followed, dropping hints about the new album from time to time, with Neil even saying in the January 2013 issue of their official Fan Club publication Literally that it might appear "sooner than you think." Therefore when their official website announced on March 14, 2013 that the new album, Electric, would be released in June (later amended to July)—less than a year after Elysium—it came as what might be described as an "unsurprising surprise." That is, it wasn't so much that their fans weren't expecting it, but rather that those expectations would actually be fulfilled in short order.

Electric is produced by Stuart Price, the Grammy-winning British producer who is perhaps best known for his work with Madonna, but who has also helmed recordings by a large assortment of other dance/synthpop artists. He has of course worked with the Boys before, having produced their Pandemonium tour and its associated CD/DVD as well as having mixed several other recent recordings of theirs. Both the official PSB website and a Spin interview with Price confirmed that the mixing of the album was completed in mid- to late April. In that same interview, Price said of working with the Boys on the album, "The parameters were, we're doing a dance record. And…, even if not necessarily uptempo, every track is going to have that euphoric, fresh feel to it."

The album's title, as well as the "teaser" that debuted in mid-March, pointed to a more "electronic," strongly synth-oriented sound than that of the preceding album. Electric consists of nine tracks, most of which are five to six minutes in length. On more than one occasion before its release, the Boys described the album as "banging." Together, these facts thrilled many of their fans, making it (if such a thing is possible) an even more highly anticipated PSB album than usual.

Speaking of the title, Electric as an adjective (in this case describing the Pet Shop Boys and/or their music) isn't limited merely to the use of electricity, as in "electric razor" or "electric toothbrush," or to the means by which music is created (as opposed to, say, "acoustic music"). It can, by metaphorical extension, also refer to anything that is emotionally charging or thrilling, as in "the mood was electric." That, in fact, is how I personally prefer to interpret the title. It's also quite reasonable to view Electric as, in effect, the "flipside" or "companion piece" to the preceding album considering several factors: their apparently contrasting styles and moods; the facts that their songwriting and recording sessions overlapped; the rapid succession of release (less than a year apart); and even the similarity of their titles, both starting with the same syllable. In fact, the Boys themselves have stated that this album is something of a response or reaction to the previous album—which, not so incidentally, they note is a recurring pattern for them. In the case of Elysium vs. Electric, Chris told interviewer T. Cole Rachel of Stereogum, "That last album was about being old and all that… whereas this album is all about rediscovering your youth."

An especially interesting aspect of the album is the fact that many of its songs don't follow "traditional song structure": verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, or something similar. The Boys have commented on how "liberating" they found this as songwriters. Another rather eccentric, even somewhat bizarre angle is that, apparently at Stuart Price's insistence, they worked on the songs in alphabetical order by title—an order that very nearly persists with the album's track lineup. It deviates from that pattern only with "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct," which was previously titled simply "Bourgeois," thereby explaining its position between "Bolshy" and "Fluorescent."

Most of the songs on Electric were composed during the same extremely productive 2011 writing sessions that resulted in most of the selections on Elysium as well. As Neil told Peter Robinson of Popjustice, they first approached Electric as more or less a "Chris project" (perhaps much like Relentless), but it soon became more than that—very much the Pet Shop Boys' "twelfth studio album" (a tally that, not so incidentally, does not count Relentless). The opening track, "Axis," was digitally released more than two months in advance of the album, serving the traditional role of "teaser" and first single. Another more "full-fledged" single, "Vocal," soon followed. The album also includes one cover: Bruce Springsteen's "The Last to Die."

By the way, one of my site visitors has noticed a most intriguing possible relationship between the cover graphics of Electric and its immediate predecessor, Elysium: both depict waves. The cover of Elysium depicts ripples (that is, small waves) in water, whereas that of Electric provides a simple line-art representation of waves presumably somehow "electrical" in nature. The Electric waves also borrow the light blue color (maybe not identical, but close) that dominates the Elysium photograph. Another site visitor has also observed that while the Elysium cover shows a white field surrounded by blue waves, the Electric cover reverses that pattern, showing blue waves surrounded by a white field. All this, together with the close similarity in album titles (both seven-letter words that begin with El), their close chronological proximity, and the fact that much of the music was composed during the same period, suggests that Neil and Chris want these two albums to be regarded together as companion pieces—or at least, given their pronounced stylistic contrast, "flipsides" to each other.

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Wayne's Top Picks

  1. Vocal
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  3. Bolshy