Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, aka the Pet Shop Boys, built their reputation on a certain wry ambivalence, but while front man Tennant will surely wear a smirk to his grave, his outlook has softened over the last half decade, starting with the duo's 1993 career benchmark, Very. Correspondingly, the Boys' recorded output has slipped from an album every 15 months or so to an album every three years: apparently the life Tennant has learned to love living is taking up more and more of his time. On the new Nightlife (Sire), the feel-good component is occasionally as banal as you'd expect: Tennant sounds awkwardly touchy-feely on "Happiness Is an Option" and the early-Bowie homage "Boy Strange," and on "In Denial," which climaxes with a drawn-out croon of "he's gaaaay," he sounds like your worried old aunt instead of your cool old uncle. But for the most part, he and keyboardist Lowe still make effortless-sounding dance music with more heart and soul than almost anyone. There's a heavy Eurotrance influence on "For Your Own Good" (coproduced by Rollo of the house group Faithless) and an uplifting falsetto chorus on "Closer to Heaven"; the false ending of the nakedly emotional devotional pledge "Footsteps" ("As long as I hear your footsteps in the dark / That's all I need") sets up a surging reprise that's as affecting the 20th time as it is the first. And with its filtered disco horn line and men's chorus, "New York City Boy," coproduced by New York house king David Morales, is screaming to become the Big Apple's next gay-pride anthem. I'm as eager to see what the stage show looks like as I am to hear how it sounds: the Boys' heavily staged live bacchanals are always spectacular, and this year's set was designed by architect Zaha Hadid, whose credits include the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, the award-winning Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales, and the forthcoming Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center--the first U.S. art museum to be designed by a woman. This date is sold out. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric Watson.

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