Dance music is at a completely different place than it
was twenty years ago when The Pet Shop Boys first exploded onto the scene
with their debut album Please and number one single "West End Girls."
At the time the band's mix of disco and oh-so-civilized white boy rap was
revolutionary. In a club culture now more attuned to techno beats and
hip hop you fear that the sound would be a little quaint.
Glad to report it isn't. Fundamental is the band's best album since
1993's unjustly overlooked gem Very. (Yes, all their albums have
one-word titles, what of it?) One of the big reasons that it is such a
success is that the band is no longer trying to be something it is not and
insert modern dance moves into their classic sound.
The group shows they still have a way with a ballad on
the truly gorgeous, moody "I Made My Excuses
and Left," the sweetly psychedelic "Luna Park" and "Numb," which could be
the showstopper in a Broadway musical not yet made.
The band also still has a way with a disco-fied dance
beat, shaking their booty (in a polite, British, repressed way of course) on
"The Sodom and Gomorrah Show" and "Minimal." However, as you can tell
from the titles, stupid little subjects like dancing, screwing and ecstasy
are not going to fly with these guys. The songs may get your rump
moving, but the ideas also keep your mind spinning.
Strangely, the one slight misfire in that regard is "I'm With Stupid"
-- quite probably the Boys' most
overtly political song. (In fact, Fundamental in general is
very much about the world at war.) Giving a retro-dance beat to lyrics which explore
the dysfunctional relationship between George W. Bush and British Prime
Minister Tony Blair seems a fascinating contradiction. The song actually makes some very valid points,
but surprisingly the lyrics are a little more simplistic than you expect from the
literate and witheringly sarcastic social observers behind older songs like
"Opportunities," "Rent," "Being Boring" and "Suburbia"
-- or even "Luna Park" and "Psychological" here.
There is something truly comforting and laudable
about the fact that the Pet Shop Boys have returned so convincingly to their
old sound and are no longer even trying to flirt with the prevailing dance
club techno beats. Fundamental is classic Pet Shop Boys, and if
you liked that sound in the 80s this disk will be like going home.