sun 27/11/2022

CD: Pet Shop Boys - The Most Incredible Thing | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Pet Shop Boys - The Most Incredible Thing

CD: Pet Shop Boys - The Most Incredible Thing

Electropop duo dabble in orchestral fairytale themes - with what success?

Let's get the obvious out of the way: yes, this is incredible. Not just the sounds, nor the ambitious staging of Hans Christian Andersen's last story as a ballet, but the fact that, 30 years since they met, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are still making music that's both relevant and gloriously excessive to a frankly crackerdog mental degree. They've tinkered with classical themes before, of course, from setting “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” in 1988's “Left to My Own Devices” to their 2004 live soundtrack to Battleship Potemkin, but this is something else. Piling on romantic themes and electronic beats of various flavours, it leaves no stone unturned in finding the most over-the-top fairytale themes, then ornamenting them and ornamenting the ornamentation of the ornaments until the whole thing is a kaleidoscope of whirling, twirling synaesthesic madness.

In lesser hands it would be a godawful mess, a bloody explosion in a sweetshop, but somehow Tennant and Lowe have applied discipline to their excess, and traced real musical connections that make even their oddest juxtapositions and logical leaps make sense. They know that from Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky to the most melodramatic gay disco – and thus on to the hi-NRG, house and trance that followed – is only a short hop and a jump via Broadway or Hollywood. Thus sudden dizzying shifts from orchestral trills and swells into a narcotic podium-dancing club beat are made to work by demonstrating that both are on a historical continuum of high-camp music for moving bodies.

And it's maybe this dance-drama connection that makes this music much more vivid in its own right than the Potemkin soundtrack was – even without any idea of what the ballet will look like, the sense of movement and colour is palpable. There is light and shade here too, with strange clockwork dreamscapes, passages of brooding threat and moments of quintessential Pet Shop Boys melancholy, but overall the sense is of a glorious hypercolour mania. Some electronica or post-classical lovers might complain at its relentless tunefulness and lack of abrasive or experimental edges, but that is to miss the point of the Pet Shop Boys: they have always been about finding the power and emotion of shamelessly populist forms, and they continue to do so here. Who knows, perhaps with the performance added it will all be too much – but as a listening experience alone, this is a far better piece of work than two superannuated electropop stars have any right to make.

Watch Pet Shop Boys and Javier de Frutos discuss the ballet


"In lesser hands it would be a godawful mess, a bloody explosion in a sweetshop" - Line of the week By the way - correct me if I'm mistaken - I believe I recall reading that the ballet dancer image above was made by H.C.Anderson himself. I rather like its playful simplicity.

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