PET SHOP BOYS
It would be a huge mistake to call Pet Shop Boys out of date or out of life, even as they now nestle in their 60s.
Their activity level in recent years has been plenty impressive, what with film and stage soundtracks, both a ballet and a mini-musical, several tours (all up, eight since the turn of the century), four studio albums in the past decade, including this one, and an unusually direct political treatise in last year’s four-track EP which was aimed at the crumbling ideals of European Britain and democratic USA.
Of those albums, the two preceding Hotspot – which Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant have described as the final in a trilogy – Electric and Super, have been, in their own ways refreshed and refreshing reconnections with the core of their beginnings. While they may have been short of the most complex or deepest work PSB have done, Electric found the electronic roots and observational elan, and Super dived right into the humour and disco party surfaces.
Stylistically, Hotspot, which like its trilogy predecessors was produced by Stuart Price, fits within that tone and sound: essentially the 1980s bleeding into the ‘90s, with its best moments direct to (or from) the dancelfoor; a guest vocal – this time Olly Alexander of the much younger electropop Brits, Years & Years in Dreamland – to leaven but also emphasise Tennant’s signature flatter delivery; leaning to romanticism that could tip into sentimentality; some oblique social commentary.
However, quality-wise it is a disappointing final leg of the trilogy, a few too many songs going through familiar motions but falling short. Hoping For A Miracle, for example, is a pallid version of a tender PSB song with heart not the issue, but the lack of drive holding it back. Wedding In Berlin tries to be dry, cute and marketable: going for alternative dancing down the aisle anthem, banger-in-waiting and sardonic at the same time, but the bits between the hooks aren’t convincing.
And while you’d not throw out I Don’t Wanna if it jumped into your car, it’s cruising rhythm and early evening melody a good driving-as-the-point track, it never makes a compelling argument to stay either. Which you could also say about the languid You Are The One.
Hotspot’s hot spots are pretty good though. The bubbling groove, Stock-Aiken-Waterman percussion and droll Tennant near-rapping of Happy People is a throwback but a joyous one and Will-O-The-Wisp is a harder dance push, with a bit more lyrical bite too, that demands maximum volume and minimal clothing.
Elsewhere, Monkey Business (a New York disco just discovering the edge of hip hop) and Dreamland (beginning like It’s A Sin and staying near enough to ride your affectionate memory) cast aside burdens and go for pleasure.
More of that and Hotspot would be an outright winner. For now, it can feel like it just marks time.