Coming on the heels of their beautifully earnest 2012 release Elysium, the postmodernist masters of electronica are back. Electric is a pure dance delight that refuses to sacrifice substance in the pursuit of pleasure. If Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is the disco tribute of the summer, Electric is its refreshed 80’s synth pop counterpart.
A true album, Electric is best appreciated by listening to it in its entirety. It builds upon itself, carrying elements throughout with tracks frequently offering a friendly passing nod to their antecedents. Early in the album, the melodic elements of “Axis,” are continued into “Bolshy,” the transition so seamless it almost seems if the former is merely a complex prelude. “Last to Die” (an interesting Springsteen cover) easily slides into “Inside a Dream” by continuing the exploration of the prior track’s journey imagery. The carefully architected, holistic effect allows the sum of Electric to satisfy in a way that many modern albums seeking to maximize the $0.99 single-on-demand model never can.
Cohesive as the record is, most of the songs stand equally well on their own. The stellar standout track, “Love is a Bourgeois Construct,” quickly trumpets into a full blown electronic operetta, reminiscent of earlier Pet Shop Boys classics such as “Go West.” The upbeat melody belies cynical lyrics that juxtapose enlightenment with ennui. Eventually yielding to a darker bridge, it shifts seamlessly to palpable self-doubt, offering a pitch perfect depiction of detached intellectual rationalization ultimately succumbing to emotional actuality. Don’t be surprised if you become so seduced by the song’s own infectiousness that you fail to realize it’s not a break up anthem at all, rather a uniquely brainy – albeit scoffingly skeptical – love song.
“Fluorescent” and “Inside a Dream,” too, both reveal the duo’s carefully honed ability to use electronica in service of lyrics. “Fluorescent” ebbs depressive and flows manic as the lyrics touch on a recurring theme in the Boys’ music – life as a sort of post-Warhol, famewhoring personal performance art – perhaps most meticulously articulated in their earlier song “Flamboyant.” “Inside a Dream” pushes vocals deep into the mix, manipulating the song’s elements to evoke the dream experience and achieving the desired effect sublimely. The catchy as hell “Thursday” continues the dream imagery, its exuberance again tempered by a sad, almost world weary longing.
In keeping with its dance orientation, Electric does not disappoint in the club banger category. “Vocal” samples the flavor of the late 90’s (think Amber) in its cheerfully hedonistic celebration of music, while “Shouting in the Evening” plays decidedly modern; it feels lyrically lacking at first, but with its quasi-dubstep structure, one can’t help but wonder if there’s more than a little shade being thrown at modern EDM by Tennant and Lowe.
As enjoyable as it all is, there are a few near misses. “Axis” sounds dated – it’s a bit too long and never really goes anywhere, ultimately feeling like a glorified backing track for a Rocky training montage. “Bolshy” is a one trick pony, the allusion to Bolshevism contrasted with the concept of personal ownership being smart, but not quite enough to sustain an entire song, even if it does play well into “Love is a Bourgeois Construct" which immediately follows. “The Last to Die” fits with the 80’s redux – at least by proxy – insofar as it could have just as easily appeared on Springsteen’s Born to Run as on his 2007 release Magic. While it doesn't butcher the original in a way that, say, Madonna’s cover of Don McLean's “American Pie” did, it just seems out of place. Lastly, the mastering is a bit disappointing: it sounds fine over earbuds or on laptop speakers, but on my reference system, there was some obvious compression and a lack of space in the presentation.
EDM rarely gets much respect – in many cases, for good reason. Electric is lyrically brilliant, sharply intelligent, and distinctively self-aware; it’s dance done right and proof positive that four on the floor can transcend Saturday night – it can be art.