"You've been around, but you don't look too rough, and I still quite like some of your early stuff." The tone that Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant struck on their last outing - barely 10 months ago - was one of resignation. Elysium hardly sounded defeated, but the duo behind it sounded like they were bowing out while they still had the chance. Indeed, 'Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin' addressed this head-on: "This is our last chance for goodbye: let the music begin." It sounded like a graceful, understated ending, but their previous album was more like a new beginning for the duo. They've cut ties with Parlophone, gone independent, and come roaring back for their best album in years.
If you're that one iTunes user who lamented that Elysium was in need of 'more banging and lasers', then this is for you. 32 years into their career, album number 12 sees them updating their sound, while managing to reclaim the vigour of old.
They do it in unconventional style. While the album has been talked up as a back-to-basics record, Lowe and Tennant have always been fond of taking risks. It must be admitted that these have produced variable results, but their choices for Electric are particularly inspired. Example turns up a guest verse on 'Thursday', and it's not a combination that should work, but somehow, it does; likewise, their catalogue of covers has added a version of Bruce Springsteen's 'The Last to Die' to its ranks, and the thumping, four-to-the-floor beat and rushing energy is a world away from the version that showed up on Springsteen's Magic back in 2007, but they're not content to pay tribute, instead making the song their own in a similar manner to one of their biggest hits, 'Always on My Mind' (originally written by Elvis Presley). It slots in perfectly next to the pounding, pulsating brilliance of 'Shouting in the Evening', which clearly stands out, even on a record as full of strong hooks as this one, and can definitely be viewed as part of a cohesive whole.
This is an album full of the sort of 'electric energy' referenced on opening track (and lead single) 'Axis'. There isn't much in the way of let-up, but would you want there to be? This is Lowe and Tennant sounding sleeker and more focused than they have in quite some time. Their synth-pop has given a harder edge that's impossible to ignore, and it finds them in a much more celebratory mood than last year did. They even close Electric with a euphoric paean to the power of pop music: 'Vocal' finishes things off with a wonderful 7-minute track which is right up there with their best work: "It's in the music, it's in the songs, and the feeling of the ones around us, oh, it's so strong."
It finishes with the duo having come full circle since the dramatic 180-degree turn of Elysium. "Anything I want to say out loud will be sung." You can hardly get more emphatic than that; their latest effort feels so fresh and vital that one can hardly believe that Tennant will be 60 next year; Pet Shop Boys are back in the prime of life, and their sound is electrifying.