The secret to Pet Shop Boys’ success (the minor issue of writing some good tunes aside) is that while they always sound the same, they always manage to sound fresh.
This is the case but more so on this new album, which seems to reprise their career by sampling a variety of styles. We could be reading too much into it, but the lead single and early standout is The Pop Kids, whose narrator is someone very much like a Pet Shop Boy looking back over a career. Perhaps they took that as the key.
Opener Happiness is a quirky mix of nursery rhyme (“It’s a long way to happiness / It’s a long way to go” delivered in a sing-song fashion) and a hip modern dance tune, sounding like a Hot Chip remix. The retrospective Pop Kids is next followed by Twenty-something, a robotic Casio-pop tune. Groovy is, well, groovy and classic Pet Shop Boys, “feeling good and dressed to kill”.
The witty The Dictator Decides has a repetitive (suitably) Teutonic feel though the lyrics are appositely warm and human: “Will someone please say the unsayable / Will someone please tell me I’m wrong” — this dictator is rubbish, terrible at demagoguery and hates making speeches. “I’d rather you didn’t shoot me / But I’d quite understand if you did”. It’s witty, and either a secret cry for help from Kim Jong-un or aimed at Jeb Bush before he gave up running for president.
Pazzo is a dance floor song for about 2am when everyone is off their heads and into the groove, and comes right in the middle, the track everything else hinges around. Both it and the next song, the remix-ready Inner Sanctum, have minimal lyrics.
Undertow goes back to being classic Pet Shop Boys, pop as much as dance. Sad Robot World is sad but not terribly robotic; it laments the robot working 24/7 for no pay or reward: “Machinery is sighing / I thought I heard one crying.” Also good — an early standout — is Burn (the disco being the thing that is being burnt, burned down before dawn to be precise).