Distant lovers, lonely nights, and the scars of failed relationships dominate Pet Shop Boys' new Release, and the sad mood suits the duo. A plaintive 10-song set (currently accompanied by a second disc of remixes and B-sides), and the group's most consistent album since 1993's classic Very, Release opens with the instantly absorbing "Home And Dry," a successful attempt to split the difference between synth-pop and torch songs. "There's a plane at JFK / to bring you home from far away," Neil Tennant sings to an absent rock-star lover on a song that, like so many in his catalog, finds the humanity beneath the pomp and fashionable posturing of pop life. The same theme crops up on "I Get Along," in which the same lover seems to have fled for good, and "The Night I Fell In Love," a fantasy encounter between a gay teen fan and a thinly veiled Eminem. Essentially rewriting "Stan" as an ode to a meaningful one-night stand, Tennant makes the subject more poignant than pointed: "When I asked why have I heard so much / about him being charged with homophobia and stuff / he just shrugged." The same unspoken understanding that life doesn't always fall into neat patterns, or live up to expectations good or bad, can be found throughout Release. Filled out on most tracks by the much-missed guitar lines of Johnny Marr, the album features some of Tennant and Chris Lowe's subtlest, most affecting work, detailing a culture in which the gulf between people, whether heartbroken lovers or the Afghan immigrants of "London," can deepen even as their world shrinks. "Communication's never been as easy as today... Send me an e-mail that says 'I love you,'" Tennant asks on "E-Mail." It's as if he knows the message will never arrive, but that a song will almost make up for its absence.