There are three bands that I consider the core of my music fandom, bands that I got into heavily during my initial teen-aged self-propelled exploration of what pop music had to offer. Genesis and Midnight Oil are no longer active, yet the Pet Shop Boys endure. In all three cases most folks only know them for songs released in the 1980s. (That would probably be “Invisible Touch,” “Beds Are Burning,” and “West End Girls” respectively.)
Recently, Pet Shop Boys released Super and right off the bat let me be clear: the title is somewhat optimistic. It might have been more accurately titled More, in keeping with many of their trademark one-word album titles fitting nicely before or after the band name, such as “Pet Shop Boys actually” or “very Pet Shop Boys.” This is… “more Pet Shop Boys.”
Now. More PSB is generally a good thing! And this album is generally good. It falls short of super(b), though. The first four tracks are bright and upbeat and clever and engaging. You’ll probably end up with “Happiness” or “The Pop Kids” in your head for a bit, or maybe “Groovy.”
After that it’s… more Pet Shop Boys. “Pazzo!” is sort of like the old “Paninaro,” “Inner Sanctum” and “Into Thin Air” are decent little pieces, and so on. The only real downer on the album is “Sad Robot World,” and I guess the title warns you right up front what you’re getting. Your mileage may vary.
I think what’s going on here is establishing a return to form for a while after a few albums of trying more down-tempo tunes and some stylistic changes with mixed results. Nothing on this record is actually bad, and I can’t say the same for previous records like Elysium and Electric.
So, can I recommend Super? If you’ve ever liked a Pet Shop Boys song (or album) and want a bunch more songs like that, then yes, go forth and pick it up. It’s not a groundbreaking record, but it performs the job of “being a new PSB album” in solid, workmanlike fashion. After a career like Tennant and Lowe have had, I’m grateful they can still pull off the trick of crafting a dozen songs as good as these.