Back to the future this week, for a record barely just released (and fortunately, not yet covered in PearShaped’s reviews section). Super, which came out on April 1st, is an excellent dance record. That’s all you need to know really. It’s good solid pop music. But you know me, a history lesson is sure to ensue…
So it’s 1986 (oh here we go): Pet Shop Boys release their debut, Please. It’s a cynical record; camp electronica for introverted musos, and yet, its oddly palattable, spawning top 10 single after top 10 single, a trend continued on the next few records (Actually (1987), Introspective (1988) and Behaviour (1990)). In 1993, Neil and Chris put out an album called Very – it was pretty good, but they were led a little astray by its success. Ensuing LPs Bilingual and Nightlife nuanced the duo into a horribly tacky niche and for a long time, it looked all but over for the duo now heralded as British national treasures. Fortunately, with Yes (2009) and to a lesser extent, Elysium (2012), the boys were able to bounce back on the thick, squelchy synthesiser melodies that had won them acclaim so many years before.
Depending on how you view the next installment of their history, the evolution is either self-indulgent or natural. Personally, much as I smiled at their return to form, I’ve been right behind the newest incarnation of the act – right proper English dance music. In the blink of an eye, Pet Shop Boys left Parlophone (their home since ‘86) and established x2 Records through Kobalt Label Services. Within months the world was given Electric – it was, in my humble opinion, their best since 1993. Their new sound manages to survive rebirth, maintaining the impeccable style of the old in a render made possible by the technology of the new.
With Super, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have bettered themselves yet again, with some of the juiciest electronic dance music this side of ever. Combining Tennant’s camp, aloof wit and Lowe’s encyclopaedic synthesiser know-how, the duo work their well-practised magic into a frenzy on this album. It’s a glorious mutli-coloured maelstrom of disco glitter and club throb; the best dynamics of contemporary dance music, blended with the most textural facets of old, and compressed into an accessible pop music format. Okay, some tracks here don’t have lyrics to speak of – Inner Sanctum, Happiness etc. Keen ears will note a formulaic copying of number one artists like Calvin Harris and David Guetta, but then that’s where the comparison ends. Super’s major selling-point is its well-travelled sleekness. The shimmering aesthetic on this record has not been manufactured so much as it has been crafted – there are years of synth-bass arpeggios and radio-friendly chorus hooks dominating this thing. Tracks like Undertow and Burn are reminiscent of some of the duo’s strongest work (Why Don’t We Live Together?, In the Night).
As if that weren’t enough, Mark Farrow returns as the art designer. Yes, once again, he does a mesmerising job. Across a plethora of formats, Super appears in varied designs, each gaudier than the last; each a perfect fit in the broader picture of the Boys’ catalogue, its sleeves predominantly white in colour.
This is a really excellent synthpop record. It tries its hand at a nostalgic ‘80s anxiety (The Dictator Decides, Sad Robot World) and succeeds; it continues the conversational trend of Pet Shop Boys’ biggest singles and best of all, this album is utterly superfluous. I won’t bang on – just listen to it. And for goodness’ sake, dance.