Saturday, May 06, 2006

Immaculate, Rational, Perfect

Okay, so this is a film blog, but I just can't fathom not writing about the new album by the Pet Shop Boys who penned the song from which this blog takes its namesake. Its judgment is coming from a biased source, but I've stuck through the boys in some really bad phases and (though personally adoring them) critically lambasted them, so it comes with great glee that I celebrate Fundamental's erudite greatness. They knew they had to produce something special. Release, their last album proper, was universally reviled. Chart hits have been few and far between and you could feel the record labels breathing down their necks with 2004's 'best of' PopArt. Success was essential if they were to survive big-label banishment. Succeed they did. It is, really, in a word which totally befits the boys, fabulous. When the first reviews surfaced in December, Popjustice likened the album to the PSB opus Very. Expecting an indulgently energetic album(as Very was aptly named for its excesses), I was initially taken off guard by Fundamental's restraint.

Produced by the infamous Trevor Horn (who has held the hands discofaves like Grace Jones and Frankie Goes To Hollywood in addition to producing the phenomenal PSB track, "Left To My Own Devices"), one might expect an entire album of crashing cymbals and Dunga-Din drums. Though they're there with all of their glittering glory, both producer and produced alike display their maturity. Their careful handling of the quiet and therefore less pop-driven tracks show a measure of importance typically absent on Pop records. Try as they might, earlier PSB tracks similar in nature have proven lackluster (take for instance Nightlife's "Only One" or just about every track on Release). On Fundamental, such songs find their day in the sun. Though criticized by Popjustice, the track "Twentieth Century," and similar, side B songs reach greater heights than they might have found on previous records.

Fundamental's main strength however, lies in its concept. No stranger to concept albums, it is by far the Boys' most cohesive and critical album. They have never been as well spoken as they can be found here. Witty aphorisms abound, this is a purely adult pop album. After all, teen targeted pop albums do not typically use words like supplicant. Britney Spears' best of was titled My Prerogative, though I'm still quite certain she has no idea what that word means. The Pet Shop Boys, on the other hand enjoy wielding their well read vocabulary and sometimes rather supercilious opinions, demonizing Britain's proposed ID card system with "Integral" (If you've something to hide / you shouldn't even be here), the bourgeois apathy of minimalist decor (decide something less decisional) and painting a relationship more sexual in nature between Tony Blair and George Bush (Ooh Ooh, I'm with Stupid). The PSB's cultural observations (and disapprovals) are bold gestures for a pop group. In recent interviews, gaping jaws meet the admission of who exactly is being parodied in "I'm with Stupid." As poignant as these jabs are, without the impeccable energy and taut compositional prowess, the album would merely be a one note symphony.

Instead, tracks like the absolute Trevor Horn-y number "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show," which starts with a ring master calling out "Sun! Sex! Sin! Divine Intervention! Death! and Destruction!" builds to orgiastic choruses well suited for the track's subject matter. That grand opuses such as this are followed by fantastically atmospheric tracks like "I Made My Excuses and Left," whose nearly two minute introduction beautifully blends into the atypical story structure of the narrative track, only adds to the musical complexity of the album. Never staying on one path for too long, grandiose tracks lead into more somber, meditative ones - only to be revived yet again by the pulsing throb of the proceeding song. The odd duck here is the Hit writer Diane Warren scribed, "Numb" which seems more fit for Celine Dion than the Pet Shop Boys, though they bring their requisite melancholia to it is perhaps saved by its precession to the thrillingly up tempo "God Willing."

The album is a somewhat surprisingly welcomed contrast to their rather cheaply produced Disco 3 which pitted a generous handful of new, electro-heavy tracks alongside complimentingly thumpa-thumpa remixes. It was a great little E.P. but, to follow up with an album so similar in nature would have been a poor decision. One imagines the remixes and special edition (titled Fundamentalism, of course) will fulfill that desire. Instead we have a fundamentally Pet Shop Boys, Pet Shop Boys' album - back in style to remind us just why they are here in the first place.


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