Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pet Shop Boys -- Yes

Pet Shop Boys -- Yes (Astralwerks)

(Phone ringing -- the way it sounds in Britain, not the U.S.)

Neil Tennant: (sounding slightly groggy, as if he just woke up): Uhh...hello?

Chris Lowe: Neil, where have you been?

Neil: Bloody hell, what time is it? (Pause) What day is it?

Chris: It’s Tuesday and we’ve got the studio booked for two weeks, starting tomorrow. Haven’t you got my voice mails and texts?

Neil: I’m sorry, I’ve been a bit...out of...what day is it again?

Chris: (getting slightly indignant) Tuesday, you nattering fool. Tomorrow, we start recording the new album. Have you finished the lyrics?

Neil: (sounding baffled) Lyrics to what?

Chris: To all of those music tracks I e-mailed to you a month ago! When I didn’t hear from you the past few weeks, I thought you were locked up getting the lyrics together.

Neil: I was...I was staring to get them together. I jotted some down, but I think the maid threw out that envelope. (Pause) Look, can’t we just reschedule the studio time? I can be ready next month.

Chris: (agitated) Neil, the economy is crap. We have a bloody small advance and if we cancel, we’ll have spent almost all of it before we even start production. Do you want to pay for the studio time out of your pocket?

Neil: Calm down, calm down! Okay, I’ll get something together. Maybe working under the gun will make it sound fresher.

Chris: (sighing) Whatever. Just get it done, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Neil: And where is the studio again?

(Sound of dial tone, as Chris has already hung up).

The above dramatization is based solely on conjecture.

But there may be a grain of truth to it. Musically, this is a pretty good album. The Pet Shop Boys can still conjure up some poppy danceable tracks, mixed in with slower numbers that are alternatively wistful and melancholy. The lyrics, however, are comparatively weak, and that's a real disappointment.

For the most part, Neil Tennant has strayed away from specificity. The songs take on generic themes that, quite frankly, ol' Neil doesn't seem to be into.

This may be best exemplified by "Beautiful People". The music sets the wan mood with majestic yet muted keyboards playing over '60s girl group style drums. "Buy the latest magazines/and aspire to the dream/perfect home and perfect kids/not a life lived on the skids," Tennant sings, a wind up for the bland observation that he wants to "live like beautiful people." Lyrics this dull don't deserve such ornate pop backing.

Throughout the album, Tennant just doesn't seem to have his heart, or brain, into saying anything. There's "Pandemonium", an ode to paranoia. He sings about "building a wall." Why? Because "not so much what men are doing/much more what they're not." So could you explain what it is we're not doing? But when he gets to the part about "Jesus and the Man from U.N.C.L.E./Caesar conquered Gaul" I've got to think he's just filling time.

This album gets by on the innate pop sense of Lowe and Tennant. "Love etc.", the first single, is a good pompy synth variation on "All You Need Is Love" with a superficially more cynical edge. There's a frothy dance feel to "Did You See Me Coming?". And the closing track, "Legacy", has a chilling sadness to it, with a dramatic flair nearly on par with classics like "Dreaming of the Queen" and "It Couldn't Happen Here". So at least the music is up to standard.

Ultimately, what you get with Yes is all of the Pet Shop Boys style. There's just none of the substance.

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