Pet Shop Boys bring the 'Electric'ity

Singer-lyricist Neil Tennant (left), with keyboard player Chris Lowe, says their "Electric" tour show will have "a lot of lights, film, strobes, and lasers."
Singer-lyricist Neil Tennant (left), with keyboard player Chris Lowe, says their "Electric" tour show will have "a lot of lights, film, strobes, and lasers." (JOHN WRIGHT)
Posted: September 21, 2013

These are busy times for Pet Shop Boys, the tandem of singer-lyricist Neil Tennant and keyboard player Chris Lowe, who are the biggest-selling pop duo in British music history.

Last year, the group released the tranquil Elysium, their 11th studio album. Then, while also working on a song cycle about the late British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, they followed it up in less than a year's time with Electric, an altogether more kinetic affair that stands up nicely to late-1980s career highlights like Actually and Introspective.

The latest Pet Shop Boys traveling theatrical spectacular, the "Electric" tour, will bring the band to the Mann Center in Fairmount Park on Sunday. Tennant, from his Manhattan hotel room this week before the first of two sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater, says the tour, in keeping with its name, will feature "a lot of lights, film, strobes, and lasers."

"With Elysium, we wanted to make a one-mood album," says the 59-year-old singer, who worked as a pop critic for the magazine Smash Hits before the Pets made their name with "West End Girls" in 1984. "It's very reflective. When it came out, somebody wrote on iTunes or somewhere that what they want from the Pet Shop Boys is 'more banging music and strobes.' And we thought, 'We can do that.' "

In fact, many of the tracks on Electric had been recorded for Elysium, such as Bruce Springsteen's anti-war song "The Last to Die," which adds the Boss to a list of unexpected acts that the Pets have winningly covered, along with U2 and Willie Nelson.

The often euphoric Electric was produced by Stuart Price, the Brit dance-music maker who DJs under the name Jacques Lu Cont, who had Tennant and Lowe record the songs in alphabetical and chronological order, matching the way they have been sequenced on the finished release.

The seeming exception is the instantly catchy, drolly amusing "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct," whose lyric is inspired by a line of dialogue in British novelist David Lodge's 1988 Nice Work.

That song falls between "Bolshy" and "Fluorescent," but in demo form it was simply known as "Bourgeois," so it did not violate Price's arbitrary rule.

"It was like shooting the scenes in a movie in the actual order that the story takes place," Tennant says. "It was quite interesting."

"Shouting in the Evening," the most aggressively experimental track on the album, playfully conflates a quote by British thespian Michael Gambon, who once defined acting as "shouting in the evening," with lyrics inspired by Lionel Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling."

When the Pet Shop Boys started out, "we were aware of hip-hop, which was a much smaller thing that it is now, and we were aware of electronic dance music," Tennant says. "And so we took those things and fused them. But the other thing is that in disco music, songs were always about dancing, really. Not quite, but something like that.

"So the idea was to bring a kind of poetry and singer-songwriter sensibility into dance music and pop music. And to bring things from outside pop music into pop music. 'West End Girls' was influenced by The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. We had this idea of mixing dance music and intelligent lyrics. And I guess that really is what Pet Shop Boys have carried on doing ever since."


Pet Shop Boys at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 5201 Parkside Ave. at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $65-$25.50. Information: 215-878-0400, www.manncenter.org.

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