Archive | August, 2013

The New Pet Shop Boys Single

22 Aug

And so, contrary to my predictions, Daft Punks’s Get Lucky has indeed faded into All-Bar-One muzakocrity. But fear not, my career in kitchen karaoke! There is hope, and it comes in the form of an absolutely first-class new Pet Shop Boys single, which I’m pretty sure it’s the best thing I’ll hear this year. No you didn’t misread that, and it isn’t a typo- it is indeed a new Pet Shop Boys single that I think is the best thing I’ll hear this year.

‘But surely,’ you might respond, ‘new Pet Shop Boys songs are at best mildly enjoyable dance-pop tracks that make you want to listen to old Pet Shop Boys songs?’

Just you wait, stupid, imaginary you: this new Pet Shop Boys song is a disco leviathan in the high-ironic style perfected on singles like Yesterday When I Was Mad and Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money), with a lyric to rival Left to my Own Devices as a contender for Neil Tennant’s all-time best impersonation of Neil Tennant. It’s called Love is a Bourgeois Construct, and it’s a million times more funny than its already rather amusing title suggests.

Our narrator is a recently-dumped ‘full-time lonely layabout’ with a humanities degree who appears to be having some sort of mid-life crisis; he’s ‘digging out (his) student paperbacks, flicking through Karl Marx again, searching for the soul of England- drinking tea like Tony Benn’. He has decided to tell himself that far from being heartbroken, the break-up has opened his eyes: ‘When you walked out you did me a favour- you made me see reality’, he declares, ‘Love is a bourgeois construct- it’s a blatant fallacy’.

I know (and occasionally am) the sort of person who wallows in this sort of sub-Houellebecqian crap- you probably do (or are), too: ‘No I’m not going to clean my kitchen- sanitation is just a capitalist myth, man... It’s odd how these massively important political statements often sound remarkably like laziness or, as this song would have it, ‘talking tough and feeling better’. Blokes will tell themselves pretty much anything for an illusion of emotional strength, so for us lefty wimps who can’t do the whole macho thing that inevitably means droning on about politics and popular philosophy.  By the way, I did clean my kitchen this morning, so I’m obviously not under any illusions.

Anyway, the final chorus delivers the pay-off we’d been guessing at all along: ‘Love is a bourgeois construct, so I’ve given up on the bourgeoisie…’, he tells us for the fifty-seventh time, ‘…until you come back to me’. Doesn’t it make you feel just a bit sad? I think it’s proof that the Pet Shop Boys can still write songs that for all their celebratory banality and conceptual nous nonetheless hit hard on the empathy dials. Essentially- and even if you can excuse the geekiness of this “joke”, it’s still rubbish- it’s I Want a Dogma. 

The music is pretty marvellous, too. It’s a slamming, heraldic blast of what we used to call “electropop” that- in stark contrast to the triumphal archness of the lyrics- grabs every cliché in the mid-00s dance music repertoire and blasts them back into relevance. It’s preposterously naff yet undeniably thrilling, and a lot like Madonna’s 2005 single Hung Up. Both songs were produced by the same man, so this isn’t particularly surprising; just as beardy gloom enthusiast Rick Rubin has become a kind of one-stop-shop for boring Country crooners in need of a makeover, Stuart ‘Jacques LuCont’ Price is clearly extremely talented at galvanising good performances from strangely-dressed quinquagenarian synthpop stars.

Tremendous though Hung Up was (and indeed still is), Love is a Bourgeois Construct is better. This is not only for the obvious reason that it’s called Love is a Bourgeois Construct (while Hung Up is called, um, Hung Up), but because the Madonna track is a disco epic built on a sample of an already exciting Abba hit, and that feels a bit like cheating, dunnit? This, though, has to work with an extremely annoying bit of music from Michael Nyman’s score for The Draughtsman’s Contract, itself based on something by Purcell. Handicap or not, the pumped-up Nyman sample actually out-Abbas Abba as it thunders through Love is a Bourgeois Construct’s six minute-plus duration, all the way thriving on its leprously contagious hook.

Excepting Thursday (a slightly limp ‘hey-hey-it’s-nearly-the-weekend’ track with a mildew stain of a guest verse from clueless basshead Example), the rest of the new Pet Shop Boys album is pretty ace, too. If you remember Fischerspooner, it’s a bit like what their massively-hyped first album might have been were it not utter shite; that is, the theme music from Airwolf stuffed into a sock and smashed against a bass drum to a 4/4 beat. Like all the best Pet Shop Boys records- and this is quite clearly the best one since Very in 1993- it sounds neither new nor old, even if Stuart Price’s production does occasionally hit on motifs so predictable that Chris Lowe’s groans are still echoing around South Eastern England. It’s immensely enjoyable, and some of it is even almost as good as Love is a Bourgeois Construct– which, as I think I’ve established, is very, very good indeed.


Magic Bus: Mike Nelson’s Pumpkin Palace

16 Aug

It bears the emblem of the Red Crescent and chugs around- albeit very slowly- with the sort of laconic roar you’d associate only with superannuated lions and London Routemasters. Mais ceci n’est pas un bus… or is it? Anyone who has ever visited a Mike Nelson exhibition may have some idea of what lies within: prayer mats, stale décor and the air of a none-too recently-abandoned dwelling are the order here, and dead spooky it is, too.
The work, entitled Pumpkin Palace, was commissioned by CCAC Wattis in San Francisco and transported to Britain for the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. I’m not sure how it happened but shortly afterwards it turned up in a disused barn outside my parents’ house in Northumberland, where it stayed shrouded in secrecy and a canvas tarpaulin until 2006, when these photos were taken by a former Polish Army border guard called Arkadius.
Insofar as it can be glibly summarised as I pause between job applications, Mike Nelson’s work concentrates on the eerie crossroads where the Counter-Culture of the 1960s and 1970s came into contact with nascent fundamentalism, institutionalised paranoia and the cult of the conspiracy theory. Walking into his Pumpkin Palace, you could be forgiven for thinking that even the dust and your own dead skin flakes might be pregnant with meaning.