About a year ago, I did a fairly lengthy interview with Neil Tennant of British pop duo Pet Shop Boys about what it means to grow older in the music industry, and to do so in a genre—dance—that culls so much of its energy from a romantic idea of youth and fun. They had just produced an album, Elysium, that was largely about the aging process, and Tennant was not cagey about the difficulty: “Quite a lot of people want to discuss or make a reference to the idea that we were sort of amazingly huge for several years at the end of the ’80s and then the early ’90s, and then quiet. In lots of musical criticism, there’s this idea that the early stuff is somehow the purest stuff—the real holy grail, the best,” he says. Pet Shop Boys were massively successful in the 1980s and 1990s, as popular in the UK as a pop act can be, and that kind of success can’t be sustained forever. The last record even had a song called “Invisible,” a mournfully slow elegy about the hardships of being an older gay man when the young boys aren’t paying attention anymore. Can you hear me? Can you see me? Tennant sang. I’ve become invisible
It would be a shame if that was actually true, if people’s perceptions of age and viability made their new record, Electric, out last week, invisible to music fans. Because it’s great. The Boys seem to be in a much better mood after last summer’s navel-gazing funk, and that renewed energy is all over the LP. Produced by Stuart Price, who’s worked with Madonna, Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue, it’s innocent, straight-up dance music, evocative of PSB’s older career mostly in just how contemporary it is to the moment at hand. The first single “Vocal” is still a bit mired in nostalgia with its video of vintage footage from raves in the 1980s, but the song itself is pure PSB. From there, the record gets even more radical: the song “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” is the opposite of “Invisible,” a big fuck-you to society’s expectations of how we’re supposed to live our lives, especially poignant in a summer in which we’re all celebrating gay marriage. Electric proves that Pet Shop Boys and their talent are not invisible; muddled with our own prejudices and expectations, these days it just might take us looking a little closer to notice just how awesome they are.