Saturday, July 30, 2016

Elysium (2012)

I suppose it's fair to call this the worst album the Pet Shop Boys ever made, though personally I still haven't warmed much to Fundamental either. I think I might even like Elysium a little more, on a per track per capita basis. But the general air, as befits its title, "the abode of the blessed after death," stubbornly remains drear sanctimony. "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens"—that applies here. But the good bits undercut any implicit message of eternal happiness, empty or otherwise, and do so quite specifically. "Invisible," for example, which is about life after 50 and/or in heaven—the life of a ghost, that is—takes umbrage with the natural course of indifference: "Is it magic or the truth? Strange psychology? Or justified by the end of youth?" The answer, according to this album, appears to be yes, probably the latter. The depredations of youth upon age are often the point here, occasionally to comic effect, as on "Your Early Stuff," a thorough dressing-down in a random mocking kinda sorta fan encounter in public: "Those old videos look pretty funny. What's in it for you now? Need the money?" We've been here before with lyricist Neil Tennant but he's usually more upbeat about at least holding his own in these confrontations (perhaps first in "Young Offender," from 1993). He seems more resigned now to losing, as detailed in the song "Winner" (or, that is, as detailed in the feeling of it). There are good excuses to offer for much of this album—good grooves, good jokes, good will—but by the second half I admit I'm about crying uncle. The jokes too often fall flat and the pathos feels like mere self-pity. "Hold On" manages the feat of both at once with the feebly ironic refrain, "There's got to be a future, or the world will end today." But then, speaking of ends, the very last song, like out of nowhere, turns out to be my favorite Pet Shop Boys song in I don't know how long—probably that Eminem stunt on Release. "Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin" fits the intended mood of the album better than anything else here by far—the Pet Shop Boys can be sublime when they chase down these tender feelings of the sweet fleeting moments, and at least they manage it better late than never on this album. The song is a knockout, and somehow puts me in mind of scenes from Mary Gaitskill's skillful novel Veronica, which is built out of memories from within a similar place of elysium, nirvana, paradise, kingdom of glory—the place one arrives at by a death of one kind or another.

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