Recording >BOYS KEEP SWINGING
Pet Shop Boys: Fundamental/Fundamentalism
|Desc:||CD REVIEW: ARTIST: Pet Shop Boys|
Sixteen years ago, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe packed up their two-finger synthesizer tracks and their pinched-nose musings on the pop idiom and potentially singed their hit-making career with a match and a wagging finger, blindly throwing open the art-house doors (and, in the case of Tennant, the closet ones too) with the orchestral dénouement that was 1990’s Behavior. “All the people I was kissing/Some are here and some are missing in the 1990s,” they ironed out the irony on their seminal eulogy, “Being Boring.” They could have stopped there.
Instead, being the Pet Shop Boys, they just rolled their eyes and moved on, awkwardly pounding out the sort of glorious globe-straddling pop that isn’t made anymore; a flourish of thematic masterpieces — Very, Bilingual, Nightlife — realized influences as diverse as the Brazilian jungle and “jungle” music itself, pressed them through a nervous Pet Shop Boys studio board, and elevated the Boys to the status of one of the most consistent anomalies in chart pop history. Only 2002’s Release, visited by the guitar strum of Johnny Marr, faltered in its ambitiousness, leaving the band stranded at their own boring dinner party.
Fundamental trumps all predicted misgivings. Teamed with bombast master Trevor Horn (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, TATU), the Boys’ tempered take on camp is sonically stretched to its equalizable limits here, with each track sounding more important than it should be allowed to. Album opener “Psychological” darkwaves into the room with a finger curled to its chin: “You’ve got a problem with the reason why/An asymmetric haircut and a painted eye.” Promises of “sun, sex, sin, divine intervention, death and destruction” follow on the over-the-top apocalypse anthem, “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show,” a circus sideshow sendup of homosexuality with one eye on Fire Island and the other on a Combivir cocktail.
Throughout, Fundamental is an album of overt mood swings, clutching its master’s degree under its overcoat and looking for a person or a world to share its bed with. “I’m With Stupid,” the first single, delivers a cunning tirade on the Bush/Blair phenomenon that sings along like “It’s a Sin” before pointing out that this particular political “stupid” may be a “different kind of smart.”
Velvet-curtain ballads may dominate — generally detailing the downcast observations of an aging romantic trying to find ephemera in the mundane as he shuffles his tired feet away from a night at the theater — but just before it all goes sanguinely bedridden, the pop punch of “Minimal” or “Integral” knocks it all back to a weathered smile (a bonus disc of remixed, reinterpreted versions and some unreleased gems is included on the limited edition). “Sometimes the solution is worse than the problem,” Tennant soothes on “Twentieth Century,” an “It’s Alright” for our times. And so it is.
At least it’s not boring.