I'm not an expert on PSB, but I've always found their slightly twisted pop sensibility to be irresistible. This isn't the case with Fundamental, though. At first listen, I was drawn to the album's mostly quiet and introspective mood; it sounded as if PSB were deeply troubled -- both personally and politically -- and were sharing their confusion with their listeners. I looked forward to digging into their stories, but with each subsequent pass through the CD, Fundamental got worse.
The best song on the album, "Numb," was written by Diane Warren, who is very skilled at her craft but is a despicable songwriter with an uncanny ability to churn out emotionally overwrought tripe. It's not hard to imagine Neil Tennant's nasal whine being replaced by Celine Dion, who would belt out Warren's manufactured pain to a bunch of aging socialites in Vegas.
And that's the best song. "Psychological" opens the album with a throwback to Depeche Mode's greatest misfires. "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show" doesn't uplift as much as it annoys. "I'm With Stupid" is just... well, stupid. "Casanova in Hell" paints an interesting scenario that is dragged down by inept lyrics.
Lyrics? Did I mention the lyrics? Good God, they're just bad. Now, that may not be a fair criticism, because PSB have never been known for their literary prowess, but these are pretty awful. There are occasional exceptions, such as the poignant "I Made My Excuses and Left," but even that song's power may come more from the situation it portrays than from the actual words it uses to describe the situation.
Pet Shop Boys set the bar high over the past 20 years. It's inevitable that they will fall short occasionally, but it's too bad that it happened during what could have been their most emotional, introspective, and political recording.
Honestly, the album isn't as terrible as I've suggested. It's a perfectly fine PSB album. It's biggest failure is that it had the potential to be so much more. "I Made My Excuses and Left" is the gem that most clearly hints at what the album could have been.
The use of neon is interesting. The cover suggests a mix of personal darkness and artificial light, an appropriate image for an electronic band that is exploring emotional territory. All in all, though, there's not very much visual substance here.
Listen if you like: Everything that the Pet Shop Boys have ever done and you just need to hear more.
If it were food, it'd be: microwaved vegetables. They're edible, but they're bland and soggy. They would've been delicious, though, if they'd just been prepared differently.