Pet Shop Boys
repare for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame interment when critics praise your latest release as Your Best Album Since. When you’ve recorded a benchmark, it joins Some Girls, Blood on the Tracks, Scary Monsters, Sign ‘O’ the Times, Spice, and The Blueprint. With Fundamental, Pet Shop Boy Chris Lowe can start modeling the Versace shirt he’ll wear to the ceremony. This is their Best Album Since Very.
Stop Neil Tennant before he makes his (no doubt wry and crisply enunciated) speech, though. Remind him that the Boys recorded two rather good albums post-Very. Their reputation has never been more secure: when Madonna admitted that she stole (sorry, “paid homage to”) the opening bars of “West End Girls” for the fabulous “Jump,” it was hard to discern who needed the favor. Thanks to Trevor Horn’s thick, supple production, Fundamental offers pleasure as rewarding as The Magic Mountain or Glenlivet 18—indulgences best enjoyed as you approach the half-century mark, when your imagination is keen to leisured elongations of familiar tropes or newly appreciative of exotic sumptuousness. Fundamental is, in short, a pair of Armani destruction painter pants.
Opening the record with what sounds like a B-side hooked with a seven-note Kraftwerk-esque keyboard line (“Psychological”) evinces Tennant and Lowe’s mild daring. They rename “Yesterday, When I Was Mad” (“The Sodom & Gomorrah Show”), cover a creepy Diane Warren ballad that Aerosmith wouldn’t touch (“Numb”), and write another pseudo-cynical I-love-you-you-pay-my-rent smoocher (“Twentieth Century”). A couple of the tunes, I’m told, even have political themes. Well, sweethearts, love is politics, so don’t try selling “I’m With Stupid” as a trenchant commentary on the Bush-Blair relationship: it’s the Stones’ “Stupid Girl” and Garbage’s “Stupid Girl,” with a boy this time; Tennant’s singing and writing are so empathetic that he revels in his own stupidity for fancying the bloke in the first place. “Luna Park” places the lovers from Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love” in the same repulsive amusement park three years later, alive only when watching fire eaters and riding Ferris wheels.
The putative merits of Belle & Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress convinced its fans that Trever Horn should stick to candy apple acoustics. Tell that to the former architect of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Fundamental’s plush interiors—pastel guitars, elastic sequencers, string sections that flutter and mince—are riotous in their splendor, a rebuke to the insulting recent albums by Depeche Mode and New Order and their ugly electronics. Of the two Cinemascope numbers “Integral” flaunts its design to gaudier, scarier effect: a 1984 fantasia in which Tennant, wearing jackboots and armbands, uncovers the relationship between fascism and homosexual chic. The enthusiasm noted here doesn’t begin to describe “Minimal”: its blankly mysterious Frank Stella instrumental façade has lyrics to match, and the greatest vocoder-rized chorus of the new millennium.
Weary and not very amusing, 2002’s Release was as funereal as black crêpe. Fundamental accepts that the light of dusk needn’t be wan. “Minimal” and “Integral,” with their unambiguous dance-floor ambitions, suggest a temporary escape from autumnal encroachment. So does fiction. The sad, sly “Casanova in Hell” finds the old sinner, a voyeur with a limp dick, writing a narrative that “will recall the bite / Of his wit and legendary appetite.” For all their intelligence Tennant and Lowe, storytellers themselves for over 20 years, fail to note a reassuring irony: tales, especially ones as melancholy and euphoric as theirs, endure long after the strobe lights fade.