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Sardonic Street Preachers
Synth-pop icons the Pet Shop Boys are back with their eleventh studio album, Elysium. It is another excellent collection of electro tunes that are by turns celebratory, witty and moving.
Paul Nolan, 21 Sep 2012
The mood of the Pet Shop Boys’ new album is a touch more sombre than one would normally expect, with mortality the central theme of the album. I wonder if this as a result of the group’s lyricist, Neil Tennant, getting closer to 60.
“God, 60, it even feels weird to hear you say it,” replies the urbane and humorous Tennant. “But I suppose a few things have happened in the past few years that would put you in a more reflective mood. Both of my parents passed away, so I’ve become an orphan. Also, occasionally ‘West End Girls’ does seem like a long time ago – particularly when I hear another song from that era, which happened recently. Then you have the fact that we’re still doing things that aren’t normally expected of musicians our age, like going on tour with Take That. So all this things combine to give the material a particular mood.”
Nonetheless, PSB haven’t lost their trademark sense of humour. This is particularly evident on ‘Your Early Stuff’, which features the chorus “You’ve been around but you look too rough / And I still quite like some of your early stuff.”
“It’s something that taxi drivers say to me,” notes Tennant. “Sometimes when you get chatting, they ask what you do and I mention the Pet Shop Boys. Then it’s, ‘Oh yeah, I liked your early stuff’. Cos taxi drivers of course don’t really listen to music – they listen to talk radio. It’s just a funny song, but it also fit in with the theme of the album.”
I thought it might be about relationships.
“No, just my relationship with taxi drivers,” laughs Tennant. “Which is an up and down one.”
One of the interesting contradictions about the Pet Shop Boys is that they are a textbook example of how to have a long and consistently interesting career, even though in their early days they were very much anti-classicist, and celebrated the way singles such as ‘West End Girls’ were very much of the moment.
“In the ’80s, we used to slag off rock bands, because they were always trying to be significant,” reflects Tennant. “And actually, the music that really survives is pop music, because people hear it without even necessarily making any effort to hear it – they come across it in a shop or in a car or something, and it sort of defines the time in a way. So it is interesting that some of our songs, like ‘West End Girls’, turn into a kind of a classic, even though at the time we were against that way of thinking.