Friday, 19 July 2013

Pet Shop Boys' Electric revival

'I believe in ecstasy/ The times we've had, you and me/ Friends we've met along the way/ Partied every night and day/ And I know we'll meet again' - Postscript, Pet Shop Boys

At the end of their 1993 album, Very, Pet Shop Boys paid homage to the rave era in a secret track, Postscript. It's a cliché, but it'd be great to hear an echo of final track Vocal at the end of new album Electric. Instead, we get a hint of it at the start of techno opener, Axis. (Rather brilliantly, the nine songs on Electric were recorded, and are sequenced, in alphabetical order.)

Axis could almost be the song vocalist Neil Tennant is singing about in dance paean Vocal, which is the new single, out 28 July: 'I like the singer/ He's lonely and strange/ Every track has a vocal/ And that makes a change.' There's something of revisiting Being Boring here - 'Everyone I hoped would be around has come along... And the feeling of the ones around us all is strong'; very much of the moment, this is also an album of echoes.

The songs bookend the Boys' most dance-influenced album since Very's limited-edition companion, Relentless, abetted by producer Stuart Price. While Price had Madonna sampling Abba (Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!) for Hung Up (2005), however, here the Boys pick up Henry Purcell (via Michael Nyman's 1982 soundtrack for The Draughtsman's Contract?) for Love is a Bourgeois Contract.

One of the album's stand-outs, Love is... opens with Coldplay-style synth strings, which give way to rave chords as if to say, 'The kings are dead, long live the Boys.' (There's a lot of fading in and out on this album and, perhaps my only criticism, some slightly shonky key changes.)

There's lots of Englishness, though: Love is... has Tennant 'taking my time for a long time/ Putting my feet up a lot... I've been thinking how I can't be bothered/ To wash the dishes or remake the bed'. Instead, in an echo of I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing's 'dancing to the Rite of Spring', he finds he 'could dance instead.' In another echo, you could sing the chorus of PSB's first hit from 1985, West End Girls, over the start of Thursday, which features Example and deserves to be a giant summer hit.

Elsewhere Bolshy is boosted by Italo-house piano stabs, the Boys follow the anti-war message of After All (from their 2005 soundtrack to Battleship Potemkin) with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's The Last to Die and - my favourite - they go delightfully bonkers Shouting in the Evening. The revival follows hard on the heels of the best tracks from their last album, Elysium, which was released only 10 months ago, Invisible and Breathing Space.

Remarkably, Electric is Pet Shop Boys' 12th studio album in a 27-year career, now - exactly 20 years on, is it their best since their fifth, Very? Yes, actually.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Winter of Discontent and Tahrir Square

Cairo’s Tahrir Square is the focus of protest in Egypt just as it was over two years ago. On 10 February 2011 a film crew led by director Ibrahim El Batout and featuring Egyptian actors Amr Waked (pictured) and Farah Youssef began filming among the protestors. The scene they shot imagined the fall of Mubarak – the next day the president resigned.

The material became the climax of Winter of Discontent, which screens at the Ciné Lumière on Wednesday 3 July as part of the Shubbak Festival. It screened at the same venue in the London Film Festival 2012, when I met Waked. Known internationally for roles in Syriana and Salmon Fishing in Yemen, he told me about filming Winter of Discontent amid the protests…

'I got involved from the very first day of the pitch. It was a very spontaneous reaction, the director, Ibrahim El Batout, called me and asked me if I wanted to do something about what was happening in Egypt.

'I had been on the square every day. You felt that whatever function we played as people who are known to encourage people to take to the streets and not fear was already done, and if I leave the square and start doing something I think the square will stay alive. I thought it was time to do something we know best, which is make a film.

'I went and met him the same day with cameras and sound, and I called a DOP friend of mine who filmed the film. We all met in the square thinking the guy wants to do a documentary about what’s happening, and we find an actress with him and then he pitches the story. It was very vague, it wasn’t as developed as the film is.

'The director sat with the writers, and they came out with a brief structure on how the film would develop and how the dramatic progression would go. It was almost 12 pages, which we didn’t want to develop further because what we had shot before was purely improvised so we wanted to keep that sense of improvisation in the whole film and we did.

'The performances in the film – I’m not talking about mine, of course, I’m talking about everybody else – the smallest shot of an actor saying the tiniest thing is so powerful and so real. That’s a very different quality in Arabic films of today to find this guy who comes in and out of the scene for a few seconds. They’re usually not very well rooted and you feel somehow they choose them like that so the star would shine but we don’t have that in our film, everybody shines.

'That was very powerful and it’s very difficult to think how we can do that again because we had so much energy from the square and what was happening, which was enormous. I hope we can find that energy in other topics.'