ATTAINING NATIONAL TREASURE status is a double-edged achievement. Bestowed affectionately, it can nevertheless sound like a premature obituary, an exemption from further creative expectations. Pet Shop Boys have undoubtedly earned the accolade: if they had stopped after 1993's Very, they (and their conical hats) would still have been welcome to spin around the Olympics closing ceremony on orange space-bikes. With their second album in less than a year, however, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe emphatically prove they're not ready to sink into the sunset glow of cosy irrelevance quite yet. While last September's Elysium had a brittle poignancy, its irritation at modern pop stars and faint-praising cab drivers ("I still quite like some of your early stuff") sounded like elder statesmen grumbling over a gin and tonic. Electric, though, doesn't just comment from the sidelines; it gets on the dance floor to create some bona fide hits of its own. Opening come-on Axis makes its intentions clear, feeling love and goodness knows what else as it plays the unbeatable "we recorded with Bobby O, you know" card. Mined with rhythmic depth charges, it blasts a path for the relentless Balearic build-up of Bolshy. If Daft Punk thought they had summer sewn up, the robots are now under threat in a battle of the headgear.
This new NRG could be a demob-happy response to the end of their 28-year association with Parlophone or a result of working with producer – and friend of Madonna and Kylie – Stuart "Jacques Lu Cont" Price. Most significantly, though, Electric reaffirms Tennant and Lowe's enduring love for pop and club culture. Being Pet Shop Boys, of course, they keep watch for the sadness behind the bright lights: the Fade To Grey shudder of Fluorescent suggests a night out flying off its hinges; a robust cover of Bruce Springsteen's 2007 anti-war song The Last To Die sobers the record up, a sudden draught of reality through the fire exits. Yet anyone yearning for more condensed pop will revel in Example guest spot Thursday, striding through London streets like West End Girls with an iPhone, or the spectacular Michael Nyman-sampling Love Is A Bourgeois Construct – Sun King disco cut with a vinegary lyric that namechecks Tony Benn and features the line "I've been hanging out with various riff-raff somewhere on the Goldhawk Road / I don't think it's gonna be much longer 'til I'm mugging up on the penal code." Disillusioned, encore – but how stylishly.
Not so much resting on their laurels as wearing them out on the town with a Caligula smile and a sequined toga, Electric shows Tennant and Lowe plugging back into the dancefloor that has always fired them up. Best not call them National Treasures, but on this form, they're worth their weight in gold.