Today’s political and pop culture climate certainly feels ripe for mockery and pontificating especially by those with “a voice” so little surprise Pet Shop Boys leave little un-turned in their newest EP Agenda, a taste perhaps of a forthcoming full-length album expected this year.
The four-song EP (released Feb. 8) has made some ripples with their spot-on lyrics for the song “On social media” which makes fun of all the clichés and pretty much takes everything you hate (or maybe love) about one of humankind’s worst endeavors, I mean, social media and put it into a synth heavy pop song. Perhaps some irony here as the band has their own social media accounts, though arguably if artists, especially those whose heyday was decades before the internet, want to remain relevant or even remembered in today’s world you probably need near explicit exposure on Facebook, Instagram and whatever else comes down the pike. Check out the clever video too on, where else, but YouTube the video version of social media.
Hopefully, Agenda shows the Boys taking their direction away from the dance-heavy tracks that made up most of the last few albums and back to what made them household names in the 1980s with catchy beats, clever arrangements and the tasty ear candy that comprised smash hits like “West End Girls,” “It’s a Sin” and “So Hard.” Though they fell off the radar a bit for me at the turn of the century, partly because of their then-limited touring schedule in the United States, Pet Shop Boys have remained rather active musically in the last 20 years, especially since 2009 as they released four studio albums during that span and have 13 total to their name. They also began touring more, visiting Portland for the first time in 2013 and returned again a few years later.
Agenda sounds like the opposite side of a 20 year bridge from 1999’s Nightlife as the band spent the following decade and more dabbling in other areas like a soundtrack, ballet, remixes and those dance albums that molded 2016’s Super and 2013’s Electric. The new songs “Give stupidity a chance,” “On social media” and “What are we going to do about the rich” in many respects return Pet Shop Boys to form as all three reflect a modern touch of 80s synth pop sound. And though I try not to interpret lyrics or try and make much sense of them or even cleave a musician’s personal thoughts into my own life, but perhaps the duo should take a page out of their own songbook (on this very EP no less) for what sounds like a slap at those with healthy bank accounts. Unless they finger point at their more than 100 million records sold selves.
But the best song off the Agenda EP comes last with “The forgotten child.” While the previous three give radio-friendly upbeat melodies “Child” tones it way back with stripped down instrumentation for much of the track allowing singer Neil Tennant to emote a bit before Nick Lowe chimes in with a classic PSB keyboard riff. Don’t get me wrong, an element of the hyper-looped drum machine electronic dance beats exist but far from their recent endeavors.
Speaking of vocals. Nearly 40 years after Pet Shop Boys formed, Tennant’s vocals sound just as fresh and young as they did to open Please.
Pet Shop Boys Agenda Track List: