April 21, 2009|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

Pet Shop Boys

[Astralwerks] *** (3 STARS)


Their timing is right on. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, the pop-dance duo known around the world as the Pet Shop Boys, return with their 10th album, Yes. In stores Tuesday, the CD brims with the sleek, detached synth-pop that cemented their fame more than 20 years ago. The approach, familiar and fresh in some ways, clicks with the urban-pop sounds dominating mainstream charts.

Well, sort of.

Lately, heavily synthesized dance numbers ("Womanizer" by Britney Spears, "Just Dance" by Lady GaGa and "Blame It" by Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain) are huge smashes. The beat and layers upon layers of synthesizers do most of the work, nearly rendering the singer obsolete. In other words, several of the recent standout dance-pop hits are triumphs in style over substance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The Pet Shop Boys have always been about style, crafting throbbing tracks awash with lush synths and buoyant melodies that worm their way into your head. (Who can forget "West End Girls"?) But underneath the layers, there is usually something smart going on. The duo imbue the disposable world of synth-pop with sharp wit and delicious irony.

That continues on Yes. But at times the music takes on a melancholic, almost autumnal tint as lyrical themes explore self-worth. Then again, that isn't new for the Pet Shop Boys. The lyrics just sound wiser now that Tennant and Lowe are well into middle age. But a shot of wit still enhances it all. "Legacy" is a good example: "That's it/The end/But you'll get over it my friend/Time will pass/Governments fall/Glaciers melt/Hurricanes bawl ... And you/You'll get over it."

Hip with its swaggering rhythm and squishy synths, "All Over the World" is the best dance cut on the album and easily ranks with the Pet Shop Boys' greatest club tracks. Midway through, the music becomes a bit more subdued and romantic, the lyrics more introspective. But it doesn't halt the flow of the album.

Yes isn't a return to form for the Pet Shop Boys. The two have been pretty consistent for the past two decades. But given the deluge of hollow hits lately, it is refreshing to get mainstream pop that makes you think and dance at once.

Download these: : "All Over the World," "Beautiful People," "King of Rome."

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