For 3½ decades, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, collectively known as Pet Shop Boys, have honed a version of dance music that’s both all-encompassing and at a remove, social music for misfits that occasionally bubbled up to top-40 playlists — the keenly observant “West End Girls” hit No. 1 in 1986, while the wrenching Dusty Springfield collab “What Have I Done to Deserve This” reached No. 2. The British duo has persisted and triumphed musically by anticipating and incorporating dance-music trends in such a way that keeps their serious-yet-blissed-out aesthetic intact; Tennant’s voice has a surface-level clippedness about it, but the occasional wobble he lets slip reveals the wildly running emotions underneath — feelings that can only be worked out in the communal space of the dancefloor.
“Super,” Pet Shop Boys’ 13th album, has some pure-pop highlights. The synth stomp “Groovy” combines house piano and monstrous chords under Tennant’s center-of-attention pronouncements, punctuated by cheers. “The Pop Kids,” a lost-youth requiem, bounces along on visions of better days and an arms-wide-open chorus, punctuated by a wistful “I loved you.” The synth pulses that propel the swirling “Undertow” bring to mind a drowsier version of Black Box’s early-’90s house-pop hit, “Everybody Everybody.”
What drives “Super,” though, is the duo’s overarching vision, which helps the album flow together like a night at a club: one that Pet Shop Boys exist inside and above, simultaneously. The pounding VIP-section treatise “Inner Sanctum” best sums up this outlook: It twists and turns, its ominous, bass-heavy beat occasionally dropping out in a way that suggests closed doors and pulled curtains, then opens up as a low-in-the-mix Tennant drones, “In the inner sanctum, you’re a star/ girls and guys, they all know who you are.”
Is “making it” in that panoptic sense a blessing or a curse? Pet Shop Boys won’t let on — though the way they craft music that’ll help you dance into oblivion might offer a hint.
ESSENTIAL “The Pop Kids”
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.