Pet Shop Boys “Hotspot” – album review


The latest album from the Pet Shop Boys is exciting and vibrant. It should be an instant success and please new and existing fans. There’s a great mixture of dark and light here and a great sense of maturity. ‘Will-O-The-Wisp’ is possibly one of the darker tracks and it sets a nice intro to the whole album. Neil Tennant does have different strengths within his vocals and the interesting lyrics and the way they are sung portrays an intriguing story. This track opens with winding, dark synths and a gentle beat sweeps in and builds. From the moment Neil sings you can tell this track is to be taken seriously. I also like music that finds time to alter its path and veer off in another direction and Chris Lowe has such creative flare and direction and manages to do this within this track nicely. These two having worked so long together must have so much fun constructing their tunes. It’s certainly a great entrance to a well-constructed and lively album. ‘You Are The One’ is reminiscent of past emotional songs by the duo, but there is something else within this track that expresses perhaps even more emotion. It could be that as we all grow older, our reflection of life is more important as each day passes by and this track feels very raw. It’s a sombre track, a little melancholic, but light enough to make us feel both entranced and recognise that holding onto moments in our life is important. This is a truly beautiful song. The next track ‘Happy People’ sees the return of a skewed synth sound used similarly to ‘Fluorescent’ from the 2013 ‘Electric’ album. I personally love this type of sound, because it pricks your ears up and makes you curious. Unlike ‘Fluorescent’ it doesn’t maintain that sound throughout, it dissolves and the tune that breaks out is a bright, upbeat affair. It’s a very simple tune used to maximum effect and there seems to be a constant party atmosphere here. Neil’s voice alternates between bright uplifting vocals in the chorus and deeper undertones in the familiar talky verses. I’d expect this tune to be belting out at a nightclub and plenty of sweaty bodies dancing along to this having fun. It’s not often that the Pet Shop Boys introduce guest singers to their music, but it has always been successful when they have chosen to do so. Olly Alexander from Years & Years is the latest addition to join them on the 2019 single ‘Dreamland’, the fourth track on the album. It’s another lively song and there is no doubt Ollys’ voice puts an extra dimension to the structure of this fast paced album. It has a catchy tune and easy lyrics to sing-along with. There is no denying that I love interesting noises and sounds that open a track and ‘Hoping For A Miracle’ starts with exactly that. Lonely twangs, quiet vox and tame synths feed into another slow paced song. It’s sung with conviction and extremely sentimental. It pulls at your heart and sweeps you along. Tennant is a master of using his talented vocals in the perfect way to convey the emotions intended. It’s a very well constructed track that pulls us slightly into the shadows. ‘I Don’t Wanna’ pushes us back into the breeze. Like all well thought out albums and the reason the tracks are placed in a particular order, they’ll do exactly what ‘Hotspot’ no doubt intended to do. It’s an album that will play with your sensitive side. This track is a mixture of light and dark, Chris plays a bright and boppy melody whilst Neil sings dark lyrics. It’s a great combination and I love the weird synths introduced just before the chorus, a great catchy hook! ‘Monkey Business’ has been released as the 2020 Pet Shop Boys single. It doesn’t have the usual feel of a PSB single, but it’s definitely a lively, funky track. Neil’s singing is different. He elevates his authority within his voice and he wants to be heard and listened to. He’s almost instructing people to get up to stuff! It’s a very different song, but certainly has its place on this album. The fact that it’s sung seriously and suggests fooling about is contradictory, but it works perfectly. The more I listen to the lyrics and musical undertones I truly think this is a very clever song. I like the Pet Shop Boys humour. Deep chords and light piano are the opening sequence to ‘Only the Dark’. This song slows the tempo and pace, but it manages to rise above previous songs of empathy on the album. It’s a lighter affair and meant to be. The song unwinds and makes you feel that you have reached the end of the day with the person you want to share your life with. I admire the bold statements this track represents and it’s nice to have a song that doesn’t quite melt your heart but offers you warmth instead. I think the Pet Shop Boys have hit new peaks with this album. I heard ‘Burning The Heather’ towards the latter part of last year. It’s a real grower. This track is so compacted with everything Pet Shop Boys represent. It moves along at a nice, chilled pace and Neil Tennant’s voice floats gracefully along telling his story. The addition of guitar strings and slow drums add to the seasonal feel to this meandering tale. It’s like hearing an audio dream and I think it is one of those songs that can put you into many different thoughts as you drift along with its soft melody. The most rounded and complete Pet Shop Boys album finishes wonderfully with both a very happy and mad, upbeat song. ‘Wedding in Berlin’ sounds maybe slightly ominous, but it is not the track you would expect. Hearing the occasional Mendelssohn’s Wedding March throughout brings this very lively song to different levels of fun. This track made me smile the first time I heard it. It’s another very well thought out song. This album is blooming marvellous and a joy to hear. It’s a great start to 2020 and great to see the Pet Shop Boys riding high with what I would expect to be a very successful album.

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