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ALBUM REVIEWS / POP

September 28, 1996|RICHARD CROMELIN

*** Pet Shop Boys, "Bilingual," Atlantic. The title of the Pet Shop Boys' eighth album refers to more than language. It's the whole matter of straddling two cultures, and it's a theme that generates the English electro-pop duo's most compassionate and vulnerable music to date.

There's plenty of the familiar Pet Shop sound--Neil Tennant's deliberately detached monotone over colorful dance-pop textures--but the title concept finds musical expression in some Latin touches: a sensuous hitch in the rhythms, horns that warm the synthetic surfaces. Live strings and other instruments--including Johnny Marr's rock guitar--also temper the digital universe.

These elements represent an exotic strain that Tennant and partner Chris Lowe contrast with the bureaucratic soul. It all comes down to a choice between self-acceptance and repression--something spelled out specifically in "Metamorphosis," a rapidly rapped account of a man's growing awareness of his homosexuality.

As Tennant and Lowe encourage listeners to shed their fears and embrace the possibility of love, AIDS is an unspoken presence, the force that makes the group confront fundamental human issues. The poignancy they've brought to the topic in the past gives way to a touching resolve to rise above the devastation. There's a feel of emerging from battle--drained but optimistic and ready to dance.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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