30 years into their career, Pet Shop Boys remain one of the most influential pop groups of all time and Super holds up a mirror to today’s pop scene to show it
Released 1st of April via x2
It’s a big year for the Pet Shop Boys! Thirty years and a handful of days ago, they released their debut, Please, with that iconic tiny photo on the album sleeve, looking so ahead of the curve now that the largest I generally see any album art is the 190×190 Spotify image. That’s the way I’m ingesting the cover of their thirteenth record, Super, and though the musical landscape has changed much over the Pet Shop Boys’ career, they remain as camp and clever and profound as ever.
In fact, we are at a cultural moment—finally!—where the curve appears to have caught up with them. Where underground musical culture is more obviously indebted to the queer club sounds and bad-taste-rendered-sublime that they pioneered, than the guitar tradition they made themselves foils to. In this context it’s hard to imagine the Pet Shop Boys being able to pull off something new; no potential to do something as contrarian and as brilliant as releasing an album of campy Latin tunes as answer to Britpop. Instead of standing out, they’ve wormed themselves into the existing pop landscape this time around, but in such as way that they’ve made it clear quite how indebted everyone is to them. Super is effectively a retrospective, a Pet Shop Boys tribute to the Pet Shop Boys, and it works because of course it does.
Super cribs relentlessly from a lot of contemporary dance trends—moody Berlin basslines, tropical house fills; even the godawful Avicii country sound makes an appearance on opener ‘Happiness’. It’s all blended with more retro sounds: ‘Burn’ has so many orchestra hits it could only be by them, and lead single ‘the Pop Kids’ and closer ‘Into Thin Air’ both run off the back of Neil’s dreamy, bittersweet vocals the way all their most transcendental singles did. It’s also a 2016 hi-NRG record, a criminally underappreciated genre they’ve been carrying the torch for this whole time. All of the cribbing—and of course the self-reference—is done with the utmost care though; the sound of them as lovers, producers, critics and curators of pop for thirty years and counting.
There is definitely filler—they have always been a band of Smash Hits! over concept albums. There is nothing as perfect as ‘Being Boring’ here, but that’s a level of pop perfection I wouldn’t expect from anyone else. They’re still the biggest, cleverest, funniest; still the best at what they do.