Pet Shop Boys were already old and rather too graceful when “West End Girls” became their only American No. 1 hit in 1986, so aging gracefully isn’t a problem. The question in 2006: whether the Boys’ slowing metabolisms mean renewed interest in Neil Tennant’s folkie roots at the expense of Chris Lowe’s undimmed fascination with the latest hot young remixer. Happily, the duo’s ninth album, Fundamental, is, like 1993’s Very, a disco inferno, and the latest evidence that for the Boys, age ain’t nuthin’ but a number. Trevor Horn’s production has a pleasing fullness, opening the melodies without smothering them. Furthermore, the ballads are less soppy than usual: Tennant’s increasing ease with showbiz diction (and pitch control) embellishes the creative-writing-school tropes of “Indefinite Leave to Remain” and soon-to-be-standard “Casanova in Hell.” Elsewhere, the Boys return to the sleaze of their earliest B sides (“Psychological”), update their Italo-disco roots (“Minimal,” their hookiest number since “It’s a Sin”), stop for a Simon Cowell–esque rant as re-imagined by Andrew Lloyd Weber (the somewhat lazy “The Sodom & Gomorrah Show”), and program a newly commissioned Diane Warren schlocka-ballad (“Numb”) so nicely that it forces us to consider the similarities between this collision of two different assembly-line sensibilities.
Good for Neil. When he’s being forthright, he’s the most boring gay man on the planet. He needs metaphor and allegory like Beyoncé needs melisma. Take “Integral,” in which he plays a character much like the one in “Opportunities,” only he’s so good at acting the collaborationist pissant that few will get the joke: Tennant sings like a petulant bank teller because there’s a sense in which he wants to be one. Brash, frisky, and hip, Fundamental disregards this irony; it would mean accepting a senescence the Pet Shop Boys have been at pains to dance beyond.