The Pet Shop Boys have been one of the few artists that emerged in the 1980s to prove their musical genius time and time again since then. Considering that synthpop was at its undisputed finest during this decade, it is at least comforting to know that listeners are in the hands of two men who know what the fuck they’re doing when it comes to crafting some of the most amazing hooks and basslines you will ever hear—regardless of whether you fancy their genre or not. What also makes the pairing of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe particularly salient on their newest effort, Elysium, is their lyrical fearlessness. Where most pop stars of a certain age try to gloss over age references in their music, the Pet Shop Boys have embraced it whole-heartedly on their eleventh studio album. The word “Elysium,” in fact, refers to a state of complete happiness and contentment (not to be confused with the mythical place where favored humans were allowed refuge at the end of the earth by “the gods,” hence the title of the upcoming Matt Damon movie set in space).
Elysium is most assuredly an album that reveals Tennant and Lowe’s comfortableness with getting older—so long as they can continue to examine what that means in song form. Opening with the track “Leaving,” Pet Shop Boys establish an upbeat, playful tone juxtaposed with the lyrics, “Our love is dead, but the dead don’t go away.” Following this song is the infinitely more somber “Invisible,” echoing the sound and vibe of “Numb” from 2006’s Fundamental. Exploring the insecurities that come with existing in the world of pop past the age of twenty, Tennant laments, “The life and soul of the party it’s weird/I’m invisible.” PSB alternates back to their more buoyant tone with the first single from the album, “Winner” (appropriately wielded during the Summer Olympics closing ceremony). Once again, PSB addresses the importance of savoring time and appreciating the moments you deserve to take pride in, thus Tennant’s assertion, “Time may rush us/Hurt all of us/But on this day we have arrived.”
“Your Early Stuff” is Pet Shop Boys at their most delightfully tongue in cheek. Addressing all of the most derisive comments that have been made about them and their music, Tennant mimics the band’s detractors by saying, “[The music] is bad in a good way, if you know what I mean/The sound of those old machines” and “What’s in it for you now/Need the money?” Subsequently, “A Face Like That” succeeds at recreating the sound of 1999’s Nightlife. With an extensive musical opening ideal for dancing to at, say, Pieces in the West Village, Tennant builds up to the lyrics, likening the subject of the song to “a tropical storm.” He then describes the object of his affection with the utmost reverence, noting, “With a face like that, how couldn’t I want you? With a face like that, why wouldn’t I fall in love? With a face like that you could earn a fortune.”
The sixth track, “Breathing Space,” serves as the halfway mark that once again slows down the pacing of the album. With a more acoustic guitar sound, the song is one of the weakest on Elysium, embodying some sort of new-fangled easy listening genre. Tennant loosely discusses the whirlwind of a famous person’s schedule (though, of course, it is tailored to apply to any “busy person’s” daily routine. He pronounces, “When the pressure’s pulling different ways/Find you longing for some empty days/I stop for some breathing space.” “Ego Music” continues the trend of switching from a track with a leisurely tempo to a track that is Pet Shop Boys at their most classically witty and incisive. The intro alone is enough to warrant Elysium as one of their best albums as Tennant chants, “Ego music, it’s all about me/Me, me, me, me/Yes, yes, yes, yes/You, you, you, you/No, no, no, no…/I am my own demographic. What does that say about me?”
“Hold On” opens with an inspirational acapella sound as Tennant repeats the words “hold on” until insisting, “There’s gotta be a future or else the world will end today.” A choir then joins in to contribute to the maudlin air that somehow seems to work on this song. “Give It A Go” is similar to “Hold On” in its continuation of an uplifting lyrical motif, only this time it pertains to encouraging another person to admit to the possibilities of starting a relationship, with Tennant exhorting, “Give it a go, it’s make or break now/For all we know, there’s not much time left/If you give me a no, you’ll leave me bereft.” The most memorable aspect of the song, however, is the fact that an accordion is incorporated in the middle of it—proving once again that the Pet Shop Boys have maintained their ballsy pop/classical music meldings. I mean, honestly, no other band could carry off the accordion and be even remotely taken seriously.
“Memory of the Future” is a dramatic track in the impending denouement of Elysium. Talking forward retrograde memory as only Tennant could, he describes yet another of one of the many objects of lust and love in his life, remarking, “Like a memory of the future, I was and will be with you…/It’s taken me all of my life to find you.” “Everything Means Something” is another musically epic track as Elysium builds to the crescendo of its unwanted conclusion. Rehashing the dialogue between two arguing lovers, Tennant, naturally, plays both parts oh so well in his varying intonations, reciting, “’You’re reading too much into this. If you think this is important, your sense of proportion has gone’/I said, ’Really, everything means something, although the meaning can be blurred.’”
With a sultry introduction you might have heard played at The Hacienda, Pet Shop Boys find a way to make the word “requiem” have a positive connotation. With tinges of the nostalgia present in “Being Boring,” “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin” acknowledges that “this is our last chance for goodbye,” with the subtle promise that we’ll see each other again on the next album. Detailing some sort of incredibly gauche, yet simultaneously chic party, Tennant uses his amazing gift for words one last time by delineating, “I thought it was like a film/ Reviewed but never seen/Where everybody played themselves/The drama king and queen.” This is, in spite of Lowe and Tennant’s age, a scene they are all too able to elucidate. And no other duo “shine[s] and soar[s] like a requiem in denim and leopardskin” quite so well.