U.K. electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys’ 13th album, Super, is a primer on how to avoid change after more than 30 years of ‘80s synth sounds.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe popularized the concept of the duo as generators of big sounds and icy soundscapes — their sound was a digital sheen. This was their appeal and it still is. The Pet Shop Boys are the AC/DC of electronica.
Neil Tennant’s nasal vocal has the trick of being recognizable even if you’re not a fan or familiar. The Pop Kids, Twenty-something and Sad Robot World feature their detached nightclub sound that manages to avoid sounding dated.
That’s due to the mainstream invasion of sampling and synthing creeping into R&B, rock and pop. Those songs and Happiness sound like fresh events but are really indicative of the duo’s limited range.
They were slightly ahead of the curve in 1984 and they stayed the course. They’ve also made their mark as re-mixers and producers, resurrecting people like Dusty Springfield into third acts that may never have materialized. The duo’s studio smarts and electro hook driven song savvy is malleable enough for other vocalists to find their own territory in it. On their own, Pet Shop Boys have a singular sound that skirts around its limited range.
Super is a record with levity; it doesn’t sound dark or down. It rarely sounds excited, either, as if Tennant has absorbed the electronic apparatus into his persona.
It’s an interesting artifact, a deathless sound from the 1980s, synth pop era that has a shallow nightclubby charm.
Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon based musician who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.