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Picks and Pans Review: Release

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Pet Shop Boys (Sanctuary)

Since the mid-’80s this British dance-pop duo has craftily used electronic beats to lure listeners into their digital playground. On their latest disc, though, the Pet Shop Boys have put away many of their techno toys, favoring a more organic, less synth-based sound that shows how far these blokes have come from their 1986 hit “West End Girls.” Incorporating guitar more than ever before—courtesy of former Smiths strummer Johnny Marr, who plays on seven tracks—Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe reinvent themselves as melodic pop rockers. Although some of the cuts still have danceable grooves, the focus here is on the songwriting. The witty, wistful ballad “Love Is a Catastrophe” evokes the Smiths at their most beautifully melancholy. And though Tennant and Lowe may not exactly be Lennon and McCartney, the shimmering ’60s throwback “I Get Along” is positively Beatlesque.

Bottom Line: Boys to men