Album review: Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Electric’ sparks with intensity

After last year”s  introspective “Elysium,” Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant return with “Electric,” an aggressively dance-oriented album of eight originals and one very interesting cover. This is an album to thump, not think, your way through.

The album marks the first time PSB have worked on a studio album with producer Stuart Price, best known for his work with Madonna and The Killers. Price has talked about combining “Old school synth and drum machine programming and new school computer mangling” for the album. That intent is clear from the the album”s opener, “Axis.” An instrumental with a relentless rat-a-tat that looks back (think Herbie Hancock”s “Rocket”) and to the future at the same time.

“You don”t know you could own me,”  Tennant repeats over and over as “Bolshy” builds and builds to the breaking point. “Where you lead, my heart will go.”  The romance, or lack of, continues with the third cut.  Could anyone but the two intellectual dance boys from the U.K. get away with a pretentious title like “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” and still have you dancing? The track combines the best of vintage PSB with a playfulness that”s irresistible. Awash in synths and ringing bells, Tennant declares he”s giving up on love. “It”s a blatant fallacy,” he opines over a persistent clang and and a rock bed that actually recalls Asia at times.

The whole exercise is by turns breathless and hypnotic (“Flourescent”) and melodically intoxicating (“Thursday” featuring Element). Remarkably, for a duo in its fourth decade, the sense of freshness the pair brings to the project is its greatest asset. Even when the subject matter isn”t sunny, there”s an inviting bounciness on every track.

And about that cover: Tennant and Lowe take on Bruce Springsteen”s anti-war song, “The Last To Die” and, against all odds, it works. Go figure.The bed of beats only adds to the urgency of the lyrics about both a traditional war and a domestic one.

This is the Pet Shop Boys’ first album after coming out of a long relationship with Parlephone and they chose to release it on their own label, x2. Maybe the joyous noise is the sense of freedom, but however it was created, it’s welcome.