Elysium is Pet Shop Boys most recent studio album, released in September this year. The album was a first for Pet Shop Boys because it was recorded in Los Angeles at the start of 2012 with producer Andrew Dawson, who’s production work typically is with hip-hop artists like Kanye West and the like. Initially, I was a little bit wary for the quality of the album because I was one of the biggest critics of the lead single Winner. I have to say though that Winner, along with Hold On are the only two real sore points of the album for me, the rest of the tracks range from the good to the gorgeous, in my opinion at least.
One big contributing factor to the album’s strong quality is undoubtedly the next to perfect production on the album from Andrew Dawson. Initially I was a little bit dubious because of his hip-hop background (only because I listen to it very rarely as a genre) but his production on the album is so beautiful. The album has this really beautiful and serene atmosphere which I think becomes even more prevalent once you listen to the second CD of instrumentals. In terms of melody, particularly strong tracks for me are Invisible and Leaving. Having said that, even Hold On and Winner still have lovely melodies, particularly the latter. I’m actually going to go out on a limb here: I think the choice of producer has been their most inspired since choosing to work with Harold Faltymer on Behaviour. It makes the second CD of instrumentals an absolute joy to listen to in their own right. It doesn’t feel like a tacked on bonus disc for the sake of it; the instrumentals are so strong in their own right I can see myself playing it just as often as I play the main album.
In terms of theme for the album, I guess it sort of invokes Behaviour in a way, but even then the two albums are so stylistically different that it dilutes any real comparisons you could make I guess. One prevalent theme on the album is death, but in no way does it make Elysium a heavy listen. I think a prime example of the way they’ve approached the death theme on the album is the finale track, Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin which they’ve described as a “eulogy set to disco music”. It sums the track up perfectly and its a classic example of Pet Shop Boys juxtaposition: the melody of that particular song is uplifting but the lyrics are a bit more somber in tone. Another theme on the album see’s them reevaluate their career which is only natural considering they celebrated their 30th anniversary last year. After all, the music industry has changed almost beyond recognition during their tenure.
Another thing I really love about Elysium is that it’s one of their most varied albums I think they’ve ever done. Their albums always have a variety of styles on them, but Elysium just seems that bit more varied I think. Prior to the album’s release they said that it took inspiration from every album they have ever done more or less. I was a bit apprehensive about that initially as that has the potential to sound really messy: I mean how could a Very-era style track sit alongside a track that sounds like it could have been on Release? Amazingly, it works and you can definitely hear past elements of their work on the album. Breathing Space sounds like it could have been from Release, and Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin doesn’t sound a million miles away from something you’d get on Bilingual and there’s a few more instances like that for good measure. Most importantly though, the album never feels like a mere re-hash of past glories. It’s very typical of their sound in places but it always manages to be forward-thinking. And to their absolute credit, all these varied sounds come together to make a very cohesive album. Really, I don’t think many artists could cover such a variety of sounds on an album and not make it feel a bit dis-jointed, but its always been one of Pet Shop Boys major strengths for me. Elysium is just a particularly strong example of that I think!
|From the official video for Invisible|
All in all I think Elysium is a very strong album really. It more than demonstrates that they’ve yet to run out of ideas. They’ve executed a brilliant balance of mixing together more classic sounding Pet Shop Boys songs (like Leaving) with songs that are more unusual in style (Hold On; Everything Means Something for example). Those who are stuck in some kind of 1980’s time warp and expect them to simply churn out albums like Please and Actually for their whole careers will no doubt find much to criticize here as Elysium has an incredibly fresh and modern sound. For everyone else though, I think there’s enough variety on Elysium to ensure that hopefully most people will find at least one track they’ll enjoy. For me, I’ve been listening to the album on a regular basis since I bought it on release day. Where do I rank it against their other albums? Its too early to tell, but if in a year from now I’m still enjoying the album as much as I am at the moment then I think it’ll be closer to the top of my list rather than the bottom. If their performance at the Olympics Closing Ceremony this year was a sort of celebration that they’ve lasted thirty years in the business; then I think Elysium more than demonstrates why they’ve achieved that feat. It’s proof that after thirty years, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe remain two of the most innovative and creative minds in pop music today.