SuperSuper

Released - 2016
Chart peak - UK #3, US #58

Visitors' rating (plurality): ★★★★☆
Visitors' rating (rounded average): ★★★★☆
Wayne's rating: ★★★☆☆

These star-ratings reflect how PSB albums compare to each other—not how they compare to albums by other artists. Remember than an "average" (three-star) PSB album is, at least as far as I'm concerned, an excellent album by pop/rock standards in general.

Following a week-long promotional campaign that teased the public (via YouTube ads, street posters in various urban areas, and a dedicated website) with the question "What is Super?" the Pet Shop Boys announced on January 21, 2016 that their new album, Super, would be released on April 1. It was described by Neil in advance as "the most 'up' record Pet Shop Boys have ever released" and "staying on the dance vibe" established by its predecessor, Electric. In fact, it was their stated intention that it "be even more electric than Electric." Like that album, it's produced by Stuart Price.

With the January 21 announcement came the first song "released" from the album, "Inner Sanctum." It wasn't meant, however, as the first single—that honor went to "The Pop Kids"—but instead simply as an advance "taste" of the record.

With the exception of "The Pop Kids" (the origins of which date back to 2011), all of the songs were composed by Chris and Neil during the period from November 2014 to July 2015. They wrote no fewer than 25 songs during this outburst of creativity and selected the Super songs from among them. (Undoubtedly several of the others will surface before long as associated single bonus tracks, although they've also said that they're likely to save some for the next album.) Even though most if not all of these songs were written in either London or Berlin, the Boys flew to Los Angeles to record Super at Price's studio.

In an interview with Graham Norton, Neil described the album as essentially "happy" in tone (perhaps hence its opening track "Happiness," which Neil says is not ironic), although he conceded that it does grow "moodier" and "more intense" as it progresses. (In the same interview, however, Chris asserted that one should never gauge the current mood of the Pet Shop Boys by the music itself; presumably one needs to focus more on the lyrics to get a better sense of their actual mood at any given time.) On another occasion, while discussing the album artwork (more about that below), Neil told designer Mark Farrow that the album felt a little "unhinged"—an assessment that most listeners would likely grasp upon hearing it for the first time.

Some fans perceive a thematic concept underlying the album, such as one of superficiality (thus the title) and the challenges of negotiating a "superficial age," and/or the pursuit of happiness established in the first track. As one put it, "The whole album is like a journey." Some take this in a somewhat political direction and see inspriration coming from the Middle Eastern refugees flooding into Europe during the year leading up to the album's release. After all, they too seek happiness by escaping from their warn-torn homeland. Others go a step further and suggest a subtle narrative thread or storyline involving, for instance, the narrator of "The Pop Kids" and his own pursuit of happiness, eventually finding it with the partner with whom he seeks to "get away from it all" in the final song, "Into Thin Air." While I'm personally not inclined to view Super as a concept album of this sort, I'll concede that it adds an intriguing new dimension to the listening experience.

Curiously, a number of reviews of the album have seemed to focus on it being "more of the same" from the Boys, though they generally have done so from a very positive perspective, suggesting in this way that, since this sort of music is (presumably) what they do best, then it's always welcome to hear more of it. But, at least to this listener's ears, Super seems rather experimental for them in many ways, witnessing our musical heroes trying new things and taking significant risks—and succeeding. Super is, in short, a compelling expansion of the PSB musical canvas, not merely more of what they've always done so well. That being said, it does display the pronounced influence of a style that has long been part of the Boys' repertoire: house music. Super is the most strongly house-inflected PSB album since Very, with a number of tracks—most markedly "The Pop Kids," "Groovy," "Say It to Me," and "Burn"—firmly in the house camp, as it were.

The graphic for the album cover that appears on the official PSB website in specific association with the CD format is the one shown on this page: the big deep-pink circle with yellow "SUPER" text. But alternate images have also appeared in other authorized contexts, including a yellow circle with blue text (the color scheme that appears most often associated with the digital download format), a dark orange circle with green text (vinyl?), a green circle with copper-red text, and a deep blue circle with pink text. As it turns out, there are multiple iterations of the cover artwork on the actual release(s), varying with the format (CD, vinyl, digital download, streaming). According to Mark Farrow, there are even different color schemes for different music streaming services.*

Top Picks by Voter Ratings

  1. Burn
  2. The Dictator Decides
  3. Say It to Me

Wayne's Top Picks

  1. Into Thin Air
  2. Burn
  3. Say It to Me

In an interview with U.K. magazine Attitude, Neil mentioned an additional track titled "The Lost Room" that he described as "a bonus song for the album." There's no word yet, however, as to when and how this bonus song will be released.

*Issue 42 of the PSB fan magazine Literally notes that there are five official Super artwork designs. As best I can tell, the artwork breakdown appears to be as follows:

pink circle with yellow lettering CD (since CD is my own preferred format, it's what I'm displaying here on this website)
orange circle with green lettering vinyl LP
yellow circle with cyan lettering Apple Music, including iTunes, and certain other digital download services
blue circle with magenta lettering Spotify and certain other digital streaming services
green circle with orange lettering Amazon digital download, Tidal digital streaming, and other services

Other color combinations have appeared online as well, but these appear to be "unofficial."