"T oo much of anything is never enough," slinks pop music's grand professor of miserablism, Neil Tennant, about halfway through the perversely asexual album opener "Love Etc.," and with that all bets are off. Pet Shop Boys have always had a way with words and the sounds that seemingly oppose them — few others would dare throw a thumping handbag soundscape atop socially difficult screeds dealing in the likes of government intrusion, AIDS, pedestrian bedsit drama, internationalism and, well, Sodom and Gomorrah — so the arrival of their 10th studio album, Yes, all showroom sparkles and spinning sports cars with cocktail ladies leaning against them, comes as much as a celebration as it does a warning. "You don't have to be beautiful," the song pluckily continues, "but it helps."
Some 25 years into their career of danceable social commentary and "never being boring," Tennant and Chris Lowe continue to belie the perception of their existence as the most perfect, glossy advertising campaign for all things surface and point-of-purchase with the emotional craftiness that has become their brand. Interestingly, for Yes, the boys reached outside their insular two-headed consortium to include the beat wizard factory of Brian Higgins and his Warholian Xenomania confab (Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue), mostly because some kitchen sinks aren't big enough. It's a bold stunt by their standard, one that serves to make their signature heartstring flourishes that much sharper in contrast. "And if I were the King of Rome," armchair historian Tennant wisps an odd reference to the ill-fated child of Napoleon Bonaparte, "I couldn't be more tragic." Elsewhere, on the darkish "Building a Wall," Neil's pretensions are humorously clipped by his own wingman, Lowe.
"We lived in the shadow of the war/Sand in the sandwiches/Wasps in the tea/It was a free country," Tennant mutters a pastoral Cold War ramble, followed by Lowe's snide, "Who do you think you are/Captain Britain?" (In fact, Tennant once edited Captain Britain for Marvel Comics, fact fans).
But it's not all downcast gazes over broken spectacles. The real delight of Yes comes in its predominantly affirmative, electric action. "All Over the World" co-opts Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake for a meta sendup of all the things pop is supposed to be ("This is a song about boys and girls/You hear it playing all over the world"), while potential second single "Did You See Me Coming" skips past its titular double entendre and leaps instead into strumming, love-struck transcendence assisted by Johnny Marr. "Pandemonium"?'s stadium-ready romp — think Gary Glitter on a good day — through the tumults of a Doherty-eyed Kate Moss may be the boys' most dizzyingly euphoric moment to date.
All good things must come to an end, and the album's double-header closing salvo makes that brutally and beautifully clear. "The Way It Used to Be" is ABBA's "The Day Before You Came" the day after you stopped being angry and all of the sudden wished you could get it all back. And "Legacy," with its reference to Carphone Warehouse boys and its crazy middle-eight French waltz and swirling orchestral ejaculation, is the epic to end all epics. "And you will get over it," Tennant repeatedly assures. No; no, we won't.
A second disc with the special edition continues their tradition of experimental extras, largely by repurposing a number of the album's tracks as '80s-style dub versions. Even better, though, is the bonus track, "This Used to Be the Future," which resurrects Human Leaguer Phil Oakey as the angry voice of nuclear protest or something. Like Pet Shop Boys, the track makes everything old new firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.