It's a perfect pairing: Johnny Marr, the former guitarist of the Smiths, one of the world's most impossibly melodramatic rock bands, and the Pet Shop Boys, one of the world's most theatrical pop groups, join forces for a set of fey, delicately heartbroken love songs packed with sophisticated melodies and shrewd character observations. Not that the Pet Shop Boys need the help; over the past twenty years they've displayed remarkable staying power for a synth-based dance-pop outfit, staying vital via the consistency of singer Neil Tennant's lyrical wit and instrumentalist Chris Lowe's invention with a limited palette.
Still Marr's ringing, ethereal guitar work makes Release sound refreshing in a way a new Pet Shop album hasn't lately, and it buoys Tennant's coolly adenoidal croon. Lead single "Home and Dry" is particularly lovely, with Marr threading a rippling lead line around Tennant's shapely vocal and evoking "all those dark and frantic transatlantic miles" that can separate two lovers. "I Get Along" positions Marr's guitar as part of a budget-Phil Spector wall of sound, Tennant sending a wobbly girl-group kiss-off to a flirt who'd "much rather be with rock royalty instead of someone like me." True, Release is far from guitar-god material, but with these Boys it's good enough.