Pet Shop Boys – “Hotspot”
Chris and Neil are back with their fourteenth studio album, the follow up to “Super” in 2016 and their third to be produced by Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie). “Hotspot” has mostly been recorded in Berlin, with some recording taking place in London and has already been preceded by the single “Dreamland” with Years & Years and their headline appearance at last year’s Radio 2 festival in Hyde Park.
“Hotspot” starts off with the wonderfully titled “Will-o-the-Wisp”, evoking memories of that 1980’s children’s cartoon narrated by Kenneth Williams. It’s techno filled and with Neil’s synthed vocals making it sound very robotic. The song leads into the beautifully sublime “You Are The One” which is so totally different, minimalistic and wistful. Neil sings of love “you are the one, I want the one” set to clicking fingers and a backing track full of atmosphere. I can see this being a single, and if it’s not…(!) “Happy People” is classic PSB c.1993 “Liberation” with Neil talking the verses and singing the chorus’ while the lead single “Dreamland” kicks off just as “Always On My Mind” did over thirty years ago. The addition of Olly from Years & Years vocal is inspired and works so well with Neil’s high octave over each chorus, it’s like father and son performing together for the first time!
“Hoping For A Miracle” is haunting and very cool, slower-paced and effortless. Even if Price is producer again here, don’t expect too much full on ‘dance floor‘ fillers from beginning to end. Just as I say that, “I don’t wanna…go out, I don’t wanna go dancing” picks up the pace, a little anyway. One of those thought-provoking PSB songs, again simplified and sublime. Electro-pop heaven next with the already released “Monkey Business”, this is 70’s funk/disco updated for the 21st century with plinky-plonky keys in waves throughout. I can see why they issued this track prior to the album, yet another unexpected and very different number. Get down!
More down-tempo moods now with “Only The Dark”, this is turning out to be an album of contrasts. Mood up. Mood down. Elegant and effervescent, “Only The Dark” is another track I would love to see released as a single. “Burning The Heather” was the track recorded in London with Suede’s Bernard Butler on guitar and, again, is slow-paced, yet haunting. “Wartime is here and they’re burning the heather” Neil makes clear. “Hotspot” finishes with the slow-burning “Wedding In Berlin” that even comes with the wedding march! “We’re getting married because we love each other”, the perfect pride anthem that will appeal to all human beings with its blend of the traditional and the mechanical.
“Hotspot” is a real surprise after the hardcore dance-filled “Electric” of 2013 and the poptacular “Super” from 2016. This is a very mature and low key entry in The Boys’ discography with some traditional, uptempo PSB electro numbers but with many more poignant and slower moving tracks than usual and expected. This is PSB growing up but still proving after more than 35 years in the business that they are way ahead of the game and still looming large over their peers and anyone else that’s thinking of a career in popular music. This is one case where a “Hotspot” is a good spot!