Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant on dictators, dance music and staying 'Super'

Elysa Gardner
@elysagardner, USA TODAY
Pet Shop Boys Chris Lowe, left, and Neil Tennant released their first album 30 years ago.

When Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the pop duo Pet Shop Boys began writing songs for their new album, it wasn't with the intention of celebrating a milestone.

It was only later, says Tennant, that the musicians realized the 30th anniversary of their first album, 1986's Please, was approaching. "I'm not being blasé about it," he insists. "It's amazing." Or Super, as the new release, out April 1, is titled. He and Lowe recorded mostly  in Berlin, and the latter superlative is a favorite among Germans, Tennant explains. "Americans might even use it. In England, it sounds a bit 1960s."

Tennant describes Super as a logical successor to Pet Shop Boys' last outing, 2013's Electric. "We've become electronic purists." While that element has always been central in their music, he notes, "Most of our albums have had orchestras on them, and guitar. This is all electronic, apart from backing vocals."

As ever, the pair blend the romantic and the satirical, "along with a sense of social realism." The third element is pronounced in songs such as Sad Robot World, which reflects an ambivalence about technology, and The Dictator Decides. The latter was crafted with Syria's Bashar Assad and North Korea's Kim Jong Un in mind — though some who have heard the song assumed the inspiration was Donald Trump.

Pet Shop Boys — Chris Lowe, left, and Neil Tennant — are releasing a new album 30 years after they first arrived.

"The whole world is following the United States right now," says Tennant, and not cheekily. The Englishman sees parallels with his own country, where "people have been disillusioned by the banking crisis and the financial collapse. It started in the '80s, when Reagan and Thatcher deregulated the system...It was in the '90s that the money culture really got going, and now it's come to full fruition."

Super's first single, The Pop Kids, unveiled in March, references the early '90s specifically — not the political climate, but the club scene in London. Tennant says it was inspired by a friend's story, though he has observed the progress of electronic dance music at home and in the USA, and found differences.

"You've made EDM over there, really," he says. "You've ramped it up and created this club culture that's very different from the European club culture. At the clubs in Britain, you had people dancing with bottles of Evian water ... (In the USA) there was brandy and expensive champagne, and the superstar DJ thing got even bigger. It became a sort glamorous culture, one of conspicuous consumption — and it's become the sound of pop music."

Pet Shop Boys' new album, 'Super,' is out April 1.

Pet Shop Boys' own evolution will be traced in a four-part BBC2 documentary series this month, and Tennant and Lowe will play four soldout nights at London's Royal Opera House in July. Tennant is hoping they'll also perform in the USA in the not-too-distant future. Fans can expect their usual attention to visual detail, also obvious in Super's album art.

"I wanted it to be shiny and colorful," Tennant says, "which I think the album is. With some darker edges, of course."