Released - 2012
Taking its title from an ancient Greek realm of the afterlife (sometimes alternately referred to as "The Elysian Fields" or "The Blessed Isles"), the Pet Shop Boys' eleventh studio album (twelfth if you count Relentless, as I'm inclined to) was released in early September 2012. The concept of Elysium changed with time in ancient Greece, eventually settling on a positive form of afterlife for which those favored by the gods—those who had lived heroic and/or righteous lives—were destined to spend eternity in bliss doing whatever they wanted to do. Even by the end of the same day on which the title was announced, it had already triggered tremendous speculation within online PSB fandom as to its significance, especially with regard to its implications for the Boys' career. Could this mean the end was at hand? Then again, similar speculations—unfounded, of course—had ensued in the wake of "Legacy," the final track on the preceding studio album, Yes. Other less worried fans pointed out that it might be an allusion to the fact that Neil and Chris in making music were doing precisely what they wanted to do, or that the album was recorded in Los Angeles, which must have seemed somewhat "elysian" to a pair of Englishmen accustomed to the typically cool, rainy, cloudy winters of their homeland.
As it turns out, one of my site visitors nailed it when he suggested to me that the Boys may have been inspired specifically by L.A.'s Elysian Park, located not far from where they were working on the album. Chris subsequently confirmed this in an interview with Music Week, with Neil adding that they liked the name because they "wanted something that said this album's actually quite beautiful. Elysium's sort of idealized afterlife, and that fits in with some of the songs as well."
The album was recorded and mixed in Los Angeles in early 2012, although Chris and Neil had written most if not all of its songs in London the year before. They traveled to southern California in January 2012 and remained there for more than two months to work with co-producer Andrew Dawson. A classically trained musician, Dawson has proven highly successful as an audio engineer and has won several Grammy Awards in that capacity, primarily with such popular hip-hop acts as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Snoop Dogg, among many others. Having recently expanded into full-fledged production work, Dawson seemed a good candidate to fulfill the Boys' long-stated desire to record an album with an American hip-hop producer, though they nevertheless reserved for themselves the role of album co-producers.
As Dawson explained to interviewer Robbie Daw for Idolator. com, "I got an email one day out of the blue from their manager that was like, 'Would you like to talk to Neil and Chris about working on their next album?' I was like, hell, yeah—I would love to talk to Neil and Chris about working on their next album!… So Neil and Chris and I started talking on the phone. They sent me some demos of songs that they had been recording over the past year." They wanted to record in Los Angeles (which they had never done before) to "get that classic L.A. sound," and they ended up recording most of the album at Dawson's new SoundEQ studio. Dawson went on to describe how recording the album was a highly collaborative process with a tremendous exchange of ideas between himself and the Boys. (Roughly two years later, Dawson would look back fondly on his experience working with them, commenting that he would very much like to work with them again at some point.)
Although there was a good deal of speculation early as to whether the album would feature any collaborations with hip-hop artists, Neil squelched those rumors in a March 2012 interview in which he said that no such collaborations would be included. This is not to say, however, that the album doesn't boast a number of guests artists in supporting roles. For instance, indie guitarist Adam Tressler contributed some instrumental backing, and background vocals for several tracks feature veteran L.A. session singers. In addition, orchestral parts were recorded at the legendary Capitol Records Studios located in the equally legendary Capitol Tower in Hollywood, where countless classic tracks by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole to the Beach Boys and Green Day have been committed to posterity.
The track "Invisible" was issued online in June 2012 as an advance teaser (or as Neil preferred to describe it, a "taster"), designed to provide a hint of the album's overall "sound." The first single, "Winner"—as opposed to "The Winner" (my emphasis) from The Most Incredible Thing—debuted in early July and was released on CD in early August. The second single, "Leaving," premiered on radio around the same time as the album's release, with a CD single release following about a month later.
As for the album itself, Neil said in an interview in the August 2012 issue of Mixmag that it was "about death. It begins and ends with death." But he quickly added that it was nevertheless "uplifting" and "not all downbeat." He and Chris had even considered titling the album Happy-Sad, harkening back to how they replied to another interviewer's question near the start of their career: "'How would you describe your music?" And we said 'happy-sad.'" In another interview, this time with Music Week, Neil put a slightly different spin on the album, describing it as about "negotiating life at our age.… written by two guys in their fifties who are making pop music…. It reflects growing old and all that that implies[.]"
The album has two CD editions with different cover art. The standard single-disc edition features a backdrop photo of the rippling water near a beach or, perhaps more likely, in a swimming pool, while the backdrop photo of the limited double-disc edition—the second disc of which provides instrumental versions of each track—is a partly cloudy sunset sky shot. (The double-disc edition was also released on vinyl, although the vinyl's cover art is an expanded version of the single CD edition's water ripples.) These images are evocative of the album's apparent "elysian" theme, with the beach (or pool) water suggestive of Los Angeles and the sky shot pointing more toward death and eternity.
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