Saturday, July 27, 2013

Album Review: Electric by Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys have been consistently putting out albums since 1986, although most Americans who even recognize the name tend to think of them as the one-hit wonder band that gave us "West End Girls." But they have certainly done much more, and Electric is a testament to what a good band they truly are. Almost twenty years after the band's inception, and they are still putting out music that is fresh and relevant with heavy helpings of artistic integrity.

Electric opens with "Axis," a track which introduces the sound and overall feel of the album. Although "Axis" contains some 80s sounds reminiscent of when the band began, it sounds more like the pseudo 80s that is so popular now. This type of modern but nostalgic sound continues consistently throughout the album.

"Bolshy" is a dance-sounding track (another theme with this album), followed by what seems to me is the most sale-able single from the album, "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct." "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" opens with an instrumental that falls somewhere between the dance sound of the album and a pop baroque featuring a harpsichord sound reminiscent of some Vampire Weekend. The lyrics are artfully crafted, and paint the picture of a man who has given up on love following a breakup. I don't think they could have picked a better single for the album, and it truly is both a great pop and dance tune. The entire piece is incredibly polished, and owes a good deal to both its writer and producer.

Following "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct," the sound of the album takes a slightly darker turn. "Florescent" is a solid track, although there's nothing particularly notable about it. "Inside a Dream" seemed to be the low point of the album, although it's still not a bad song, just not incredibly good.

The biggest surprise on the album is "The Last To Die," which is actually a cover of a Bruce Springsteen track from Magic. Pet Shop Boys do such a great job of owning the song, I never would have identified it as a cover. It is a beautiful cover of a very poetic and haunting tune that I can imagine being used in a zombie film. "The Last To Die" is a reference to a John Kerry quote regarding the Vietnam war: " do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

"Shouting in the Evening" is a heavily synthesized tune which is the shortest on the album. It turns into "Thursday" almost before you realize it. "Thursday" is a brilliant pop tune, and probably the best song on the album after "Love is a Bourgeois Construct." It also contains the Pet Shop Boys chanting style reminiscent of  the chorus in "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Toward the end of the song, Example does a little rapping, transforming the song into something not unlike a Mark Ronson and the Business International track.

The album closes with another very strong piece, "Vocal," which was featured in Youtube ads for the album. "Vocal" is almost an ode to clubbing, but more importantly, an ode to music, and how it relates to mood. "Vocal" is positive and upbeat in a way most songs do not dare to be.

Electric is one of the best albums I've heard lately by a band that isn't one I'm gaga over. Much like They Might Be Giants Nanobots, Pet Shop Boys have taken the things that they are known for (electronic music innovation) and continued to grow and develop so that the age of the band is unrelated to the relevance of their music. I feel like Electric does what Random Access Memories by Daft Punk could have done. Electric doesn't try too hard, but it also doesn't rely on old material to convince buyers it will be good. Too many bands entering their second or third decade are busy trying to convince listeners that they are still young and talented and forget to actually be good (I love you B-52's, but this means you). If you're looking for something with a touch of 80s a heavy scoop of dance feel, I recommend you check this album out.

Pet Shop Boys are an English electronic pop duo.

Electric can be purchased here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

One-Mind Tracks: Musical Tour of the U.S.

In celebration of the 4th of July, this blog and the One-Mind Tracks radio show are going on a musical tour of the U.S.A. I mean, the blog will stay where it is, but the songs will provide musical journey (or something cheezy like that).

America by Simon and Garfunkel
I figured we should open with an overview. Simon and Garfunkel describe a trip across the U.S., hitchhiking and riding a Greyhound bus.

Boston by Augustana
Augustana's most popular song from 2005 makes reference to Boston, Massachusetts.

New York City by They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants provided this cover of a gorgeous Cub song that is a love song about two people as well as a love song to New York, New York.

Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John
Elton John suggested the title "Philadelphia Freedom" to his lyricist Bernie Taupin after John became friends with tennis coach Billie Jean King. The lyrics of the song, however, were more inspired by the bicentennial, and the music attributed to the "Philadelphia sound" such as The Delphonics and The Spinners.

Florida by Push Kings
A band originally from Boston sing this fun tune about Florida.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence
Over to Georgia for this dark tune about the hanging of an innocent man by Californian Vicki Lawrence.

Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver
John Denver played a show with Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff who had written a song they were going to try to get Johnny Cash to sing. They decided to let Denver hear it, thankfully for both West Virginia and Denver himself.

My City Was Gone by The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde laments about the Akron, Ohio that changed in her absence.

Chicago by Sufjan Stevens
Over to Illinois for this sweet track by Sufjan Stevens.

Kentucky Woman by Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond wrote this track about the groupies at a Kentucky show.

Graceland by Paul Simon
The title track off of Paul Simon's 1986 album explores Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, which Simon visited after his separation from wife Carrie Fisher.

Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn
Still in Tennessee, Marc Cohn sings about his trip to Memphis as well as Graceland.

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
A band from Florida sings the praises of Alabama.

House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
The most popular version of an old blues track by a British band references New Orleans, Louisiana's unfortunate patronage.

Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry
Katy Perry sings a song of Las Vegas, Nevada where anything can happen and you must just accept it as fate.

California by Phantom Planet
A tale of returning to California which is credited in part to Al Jolson, who sang a song called "California, Here I Come" (although he is only a co-author of the song).

Walking in L.A. by Missing Persons
Nobody walks in Los Angeles, California.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? by Dionne Warwick
Catchy tune about finding (or not finding) success in California.

Oregon Girl by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
In the vein of "California Girls," "Oregon Girl" sings the praises of women from Oregon.

Hello Seattle by Owl City
Despite being from Minnesota, Adam Young has said he considers this song about Seattle, Washington to be a track most representative of the type of music he wants to make.

Private Idaho by The B-52's
In this track, Idaho is code for paranoia.

Surfin' U.S.A. by The Beach Boys
To close much the way we started, here's another overview of the U.S. by The Beach Boys.

Any More? I'd love to hear them.

And if you live in the area of Marion, Ohio, be sure to catch most of this playlist Thursday night at 7 on One-Mind Tracks on 97.5 WDIF.