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Pet Shop Boys - Hotspot (Kobalt Label Services)

16 January 2020

After almost forty-years, thirteen albums and sixty-five singles, The Pet Shop Boys have remained a constant in music. Forever influencing, since “West End Girls” hit the top of the US Billboard Charts, opening the floodgates for sales of 100 million units. Now, in 2020 they return with a new long-player, Hotspot. Recorded, mostly at Hansa studios in Berlin, made famous by Bowie and Iggy Pop in the late seventies, (Low, Lust For Life_ etc.). With all the mechanics in place, the Pet Shop Boys look poised to follow on from 2016’s Super. That previous work which debuted at number-one on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums charts. 

Set for release on January 24 2020, Hotspot continues the 21st century advancements of the Pet Shop Boys. Messrs Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe appear to have an endless musical pit of ideas, with a tongue-in-cheek bravado refreshingly ever-present. This is pinned down from the outset and the opening “Will-o-the-wisp”. With its ambient swirls which change direction as beats kick in fully. It is the PSB at their most fun, enjoying flexing their electro-muscles. This segues into the romanticism of “You are the one”, perhaps a stretch at a ballad, but without the soppy projections. More in the caliber of my own personal tastes is the half-spoken, chant and swoon of “Happy People”. Crossing a plethora of decades, paying tribute to the boys’ history, well it’s even stated in the song – “the rhythm of our history”
“Dreamland” featuring Years And Years has that classic feel with a fresh sound. The voices of Olly Alexander and Neil blend quite well, though the chorus is a bit too uplifting, it is still a danceable love theme. 

“Hoping For A Miracle” is again that reaching for hope from the decay of life. The omnipresent view of wanting something better against a backdrop of strings, synth and a wall of electro beats. There is a minimal lush to “Monkey Business”, though it twists in the grime of late-seventies disco, it rattles speakers spectacularly. With a blending of melodic funk each listen brings it closer into the spectrum of addictive. 

“Only The Dark” with its message of hope in darkness, continues in some respects the themes of “Hoping For A Miracle”. An eighties anchored indulgence that moves at an inspired momentum, matching the stark lyrics- “Don’t be scared,
For only the dark,
can show you the stars” 
“Burning the Heather”, recorded at RAK Studios in London, where Bernard Butler (exSuede) contributed guitar to the track, is a brilliant piece of work. Perhaps, what Hotspot will be remembered for in some circles as  “that album with..”

Closing with the odd and challenging “Wedding In Berlin”, it is as if the weakest is left until last, thankfully. And perhaps this is a track that means something to Lowe and Tennant, more than something to connect to audiences with. Don’t be disparaged however. In truth, Hotspot is a decent album. It is not the work of a band reinventing the wheel, but using the extent of their knowledge to build a work of contemporary music. The standout moments such as “Burning The Heather”,  and the opening “Will-o-the-wisp”, make up for the curios such as the closing track “Wedding In Berlin”. Though it is a fine start to the year, and certainly something I would recommend to fans of their eighties work looking to get reacquainted with an old friend. 

1.    Will-o-the-wisp
2.    You are the one
3.    Happy people
4.    Dreamland (featuring Years & Years)
5.    Hoping for a miracle
6.    I don’t wanna
7.    Monkey business
8.    Only the dark
9.    Burning the heather
10. Wedding in Berlin