Which is more unsettling: a) that Pet Shop Boys recruited Diane Warren to write a track on their ninth proper album, or b) that her song, "Numb," doesn't stick out from the other tracks? The correct answer is "B." For Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, working with the undisputed champ of power ballads could be seen as just another way to join their arch sense of irony with their unabashedly pop sensibilities. Trouble is, those two (usually harmonious) aspects of the duo's craft rarely line up on Fundamental, even when Warren is out of the picture.
A politically charged album that's free of musical sparks, Fundamental touches on the war in Iraq ("I'm With Stupid," "Twentieth Century"), troubles faced by immigrants to the UK ("Indefinite Leave To Remain," "Integral") and the free-floating paranoia of the age ("Psychological"). It's perfect Pet Shop Boys material, but the lyrics rarely stand out above music seemingly designed for discos catering to middle-aged clubgoers who don't want to move too fast. Trevor Horn, who previously worked with Pet Shop Boys on the 1988 single "Left To My Own Devices," provides characteristically slick production, but there's little to cast light on the gloss, and the political exasperation translates into music that sounds simply exhausted.