It was with these expectations I sat down to listen to it, and maybe it’s not that strange that I was disappointed with it. This review has been hard to write, and I have started over completely about five times, because I just didn’t know what I thought about “Fundamental”. It’s probably the album that has been hardest to get into for me, but it has actually grown steadily since I heard it the first time. The songs that last are also the ones where you have to get under their skin.
“Fundamental" is indeed a big step in the right direction, but doesn’t get all its cards right. There’s something intangible that irks me about it, and there are too many ballads. Pet Shop Boys are capable of making fantastic ballads, such as “Jealousy”, “Only the Wind” and “King’s Cross” et al, but listen to the horrendous “Numb” – admittedly written by famous songwriter Diane Warren, and not Tennant/Lowe – and you’ll long for those old tracks instead. Many of the slower numbers here veer dangerously close to Eurovision material, although they are the ones that have improved the most upon repeated listening.
Three of the upbeat songs works perfectly though, with the trio made up of “Minimal”, “I’m with Stupid” and “The Sodom and Gomorra Show”, the latter complete with sweet chorus and power chord guitars. I have a hard time enjoying “Integral”, with its overly jaunty and annoying chorus, and the total borefest that is “Twentieth Century”. The album opener is a somewhat Kraftwerkian tune called “Psychological” that could well have been a B-side.
A lot has been written about the lyrical content on “Fundamental”, and it is actually refreshing to hear songs about politics and erections (or rather the absence of one) on a Pet Shop Boys album, considering Neil Tennant's sharp mind and humour.
Trevor Horn’s production brings the electronics into the forefront again, and it sounds like they consciously tried to bring the old PSB sound back. With certain success, I might add, even though I’ll take the electropop sound of “Very” any day.
There’s also a special edition with a whole bunch of remixes, and if you can afford it you should get it if not only for the superb “Fugitive” mixed by Richard X. It might actually be better than anything on the album, together with the B-side “The Resurrectionist” which you can find on the “I’m With Stupid” single. Both are supreme over the top electropop songs, and the album would have benefited greatly if they were on it.