Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
- David Pollock
- 21 January 2020
Fourteenth studio album by English synth-pop duo proves that their style remains undated
Inevitability never sounds as fresh as it does upon the arrival of a new Pet Shop Boys album. The sound of a format being rinsed – which is undoubtedly what's happening each time – is drowned out by the inescapable delights of those big, bright, otherworldly washes of synthesiser and callbacks to the dancefloors of the late 80s and early 90s. Back then, the collision of Chris Lowe's house-driven beats and Neil Tennant's arch, lyrical vocal constructions was a subtly revolutionary sound, a celebration of and reaction to the mainstreaming of club music in popular culture at the time of its emergence.
Unfeasibly, it's been thirty-six years since the duo released their debut single 'West End Girls' (it wasn't a hit until the following year), and although the technology has improved in the interim, their sound has retained a time capsule quality. This works to Tennant and Lowe's advantage, for electronic pop has rarely slipped out of fashion since then, and it's in the enthusiasm and tenacity of their delivery that the pair continue to sound as though the 2020s might need them.
The lively electro of 'Will-o-the-Wisp' celebrates a muse, 'a bright-eyed, eager free spirit' who might retain youth and the will to party after midnight in Berlin, or who might have settled down with a wife and job in local government; 'Happy People' is a bubbly, Stock, Aitken and Waterman-like pop tribute to 'happy people / living in a sad world'; 'I Don't Wanna' is the most infectious and danceable declaration of its singer's desire to stay home that we can recall; and 'Monkey Business' is a gleaming piece of nu-disco with heavily synthesised voices on the breakdown, breathy female vocals, spaceship synth swooshes and piano house-soundtracked demands for 'champagne and margaritas'.
Amid all these undoubted bangers, there are moments of calm, with the electro ballad 'You Are the One', the surging sense of nostalgia, melodrama and reflection on past stardom in 'Hoping for a Miracle', and 'Burning the Heather's attempt at a pastoral feel, with Bernard Butler adding unobtrusive guitar. Years & Years also make an appearance on 'Dreamland', both the most contemporary and the most attractive song here, with Tennant and Olly Alexander briefly acknowledging reality ('I'm so tired of my homeland') by escaping from it into a world of love and sound.
Fusing a deep house beat with a chiming wedding march, the closing 'Wedding in Berlin' encapsulates the themes of what is apparently the last of a trilogy of albums (also including 2013's Electric and 2016's Super) which were largely recorded in Berlin with producer Stuart Price. References to the city abound throughout, as well as a sense of recurring romance, as though hinting that new life and love, and life in Europe might be a feature of the Pet Shops' own world. The songs here could have comfortably slotted into any point in their career, although in 2020 their style remains undated.
Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot, out Fri 24 Jan on x2 Records/Kobalt.