Review: “Fundamental” by Pet Shop Boys (CD, 2006)

Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain is the 2006 ninth album Fundamental by British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys. Should this album get Indefinite Leave To Remain, or should you make your Excuses And leave? Read on…

Pet Shop Boys - Fundamental (2006) album
Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental (2006) album

This 12 track CD opens with the fuzziness of Psychological before an almost Kernkraft Zombie Nation synth gives us a bass line over some spooky synth layers. Neil’s vocals add to the mysteriousness of it all, with the sound like something from a horror movie… or yes, a psychological thriller movie. This is heightened by ‘There’s something in the attic and it smells so bad’ Neil announces, and instantly you know where you are. Musically, the track is minimal, helping to heighten the tension until the final third by which time you might expect a DJ to mix the song off into Thriller by Michael Jackson.

A prolonged synth and heartbeat lead us into next up is The Sodom And Gomorrah Show, as a male announcer welcomes us into some kind of burlesque TV show from some late night channel. Electric guitars and drums thunder in, injecting some rockier energy alongside some wonderfully sounding disco synth energy. Tucked away in the credits we can find Anne Dudley and Tessa Niles, so you know that the track is in good hands with them on board. This track really chugs along effortlessly thanks to the guitars, and ‘disco strings’. There’s a lovely near angelic moment with Neil’s vocal harmonies at about 3.32m, before the song returns full force like some secret sexier later night Disco 2000.

Again, that runs straight into what sounds like monk lost on the London Underground, before rain, taxis and oboes arrive on the street above. It’s time for I Made My Excuses And Left, and once again we’re treated to more lush strings with foley in the background. This continues until 1m 50s before Neil takes the microphone. Here, Neil, sings about an awkward encounter

Second single Minimal follows that. The track dropped them just inside the UK top 20, reaching #19. The track is laden with wonderfully sweeping strings and these play perfectly as they swirl around the robotised spelling of the track’s name, the soft pop beat, and gentle synths. The result is quite a catchy and beautiful sound, and one that perhaps harks back to the epic-ness of the arrangement of 1988’s Left To My Own Devices.

Legendary songwriter Diane Warren lends her song Numb next, and this perhaps affords here an epic opening to her song, complete with timpani rumbling in a hugely orchestrally flooded song produced by another legend – Trevor Horn. Piano arrives, and for a moment you could almost be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of rejected Bond Theme. The lost monk returns briefly, but then Neil arrives with his trademark vocals. However, this is a mix of Diane’s ability to write wonderful love ballands, and Neil’s ability to wring out every sense of emotion and deliver a flawless vocal. The result is one that works really well, and perhaps has him add to the numbness that he already feels. This was the third and final single from the album, giving them a #23 peak.

God Willing follows this and it’s a short track at 1m 18s, bursting open with electric guitars, and sounding like some kind of BBC News indent or an extended orchestral version of the Countdown clock.

Luna Park arrives hot on its coat tales, swollen with warm synths, and this track flows effortlessly along, sounding as if it’s an old hit from their Behaviour album. There’s a descending chord sequence here, and it works really well as entwined with Neil’s lyrics of the Luna Park fun fair and the occasional snippets of circus sounds. It’s a really nice track, and by the end I felt like I knew this Luna Park.

Then it’s on to I’m With Stupid, which also comes complete with a video with ‘stupid’ duo David Walliams and Matt Lucas playing a version of Neil and Chris, playing to a hostaged Neil and Chris who appear at the end. The video is somewhat of a distraction to the song, but here on the CD you can hear that the track is a nice gentle mid-tempo pop song that plays perfectly on catchy melodies and Neil’s vocal harmonies. It feels comfortably as a Pet Shop Boys single, but doesn’t push the boat out. That said, the lyrical content may well mirror the politics of the time with stupid referring to the relationship between UK Prime Minister Blair and US President Bush. The track was the lead single from the album and gave them a #8 UK hit.

Casanova In Hell is next and this is one of those funny little narrative songs that lurk on Pet Shop Boys albums from time to time, although perhaps more often these days. Here, Casanova is unable to get an erection, and has a difficult time in Hell, but as the song comes to its climax, Neil is able to share that Casanova did indeed get his end up, so that’s fine. I can take or leave these witty songs

That leads on to Twentieth Century, and this is a wonderfully growly and racing synth undercurrent as Neil’s soft and gentle vocals flitter effortlessly on top. Further synths join in, as if birds to carry him along this journey. The growling synth line is simple but it really gives this song a pumping energy that the light hi-hat struggles to make loud enough. The track hits the bridge that’s full of acoustic guitars and loads of Neil harmonies, before returning back to the previous format and maintaining its energy. It’s only at about the 3m 30s mark, where a new beat drops in as a load of synths swirl around right up to the end.

Penultimate track Indefinite Leave To Remain is next, opening with some almost regal fanfare… and this is by no means coincidental. As the title suggests, this song is about immigration into the UK – a hot topic in UK politics then and now, and this track fits the narrative of this wonderfully. ‘Give me hope, give me sane, give me indefinite leave to remain‘ Neil sings as strings swoop around him.

The album closes with Integral, which continues on the political affront, and it sounds like a wonderful 90’s eurodance track, blended with Divine’s You Think You’re A Man. It’s an upbeat pumping dance track and that makes it a wonderfully energetic ending to the album, as well as a bright and defiant political statement that is against citizen ID cards in the UK. I don’t think it labours this point, and the song stands wonderfully on its own merits as a catchy as hell musical feast.

Pet Shop Boys’ lead single ‘I’m With Stupid’ (2006).

Verdict

Over all, this album may well have some political points, but show me a Pet Shop Boys album that doesn’t, and is that such a bad thing?

The tracks here work really well, and at times hark back to sounds you can almost pinpoint from their highly successful 1980’s career, through to some of the softer and mellower 90’s track, to some of the pumping dance and neo-disco sounds you could hear hitting the charts in the 00’s.

The high points therefore come for varying reasons with Numb being a wonderfully rich song, through to the catchy pop of I’m With Stupid, and The Sodom And Gomorrah Show. Integral really blows the cobwebs out whilst Minimal works as a catchy robo pop song simmering with intent to misbehave.

Casanova In Hell is where the album touches a lower point, but that’s simply down to the lyrical type of song, and that doesn’t personally appeal to me – leaning just a bit too close to Tom Lehner and Ethel Merman for my comfort.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2022 REVIEW RATING: 4 / 5
  • 2006 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #5, certified Silver by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: 50p from a British Heart Foundation store.

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