Album artwork for Pet Shop Boys album Hotspot

Album Review: Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot

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The 80s synth icons Pet Shop Boys return with their best album since 1999’s Nightlife and their first full length album in four years as the London-based duo brings a return to their pop hit hey-day with Hotspot out today (Jan. 24).

Hotspot represents Pet Shop Boys’ 14th studio album and though they dropped the foreshadowing EP Agenda last year, none of those songs appear on Hotspot, a 42 minute collection of 10 new songs showing the Boys continue to push their boundaries nearly 40 years after forming and more than 35 years since their smash debut Please.

If you didn’t know, the Pet Shop Boys have a “tradition,” if you will, of one-word album titles and branding all the song names by using lower case except the opening word – like the start of a sentence. Neat! Gotta stand out somehow, right?

With Hotspot, Pet Shop Boys have come full circle in many respects as they somewhat abandoned their upbeat and catchy melodic roots that made them standard radio fare 30 years ago with “It’s a Sin,” “West End Girls” and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” among others,  for simple dance grooves and club thumping beats that sound more akin to, well, bands, artists, and DJs that I have little interest in. But now, they mostly return to their beginnings with fun pop rock harmonies as Hotspot features classic Pet Shop Boys without them recycling the same ole, same ole that makes you toss this new album aside for that which you have already heard.

It might take some time, but Hotspot indeed has some excellent tracks that when all is said and done could rank high among the Pet Shop Boys faithful and kick some of those classic tunes from the 80s outside the Top 10 Best Pet Shop Boys songs list. (Idea! Haven’t done a Top 10 yet for them). At any rate, the musical purists will still snub their nose at these guys who mostly eschew guitars and real drums for synthesizers and keyboards and drum tracks and backing tracks. If you have ever seen Pet Shop Boys live, it’s pretty much singer Neil Tennant leading on vocals and Chris Lowe synchronizing behind all those beats – whether pre-recorded or played live.

Pet Shop Boys Hotspot Album Review

  • Will-o-the-wisp – great song. Classic PSB with a modern flair.
  • You are the one – Oh boy, a slow ballad reminiscent of those weepy 80s songs with a simple electronic drum track. Not my favorite.
  • Happy people – Fun song.
  • Dreamland – Explains why they have been around for 40 years. Another great one. Instant catchy beat.
  • Hoping for a miracle – Slow and glamorous, with a touch of dark,  sounds like Pet Shop Boys, it’s solid but this shows they do much better on upbeat, fun tempo songs.
  • I don’t wanna – Takes a bit to grow on you. Good chorus but the rest might prompt you to “skip.”
  • Monkey business – if the electronic era started in the 70s, “Monkey business” would have emerged a massive hit. Somehow, someway Pet Shop Boys figure out new rhythms and beats to define their keyboard-centric songs.
  • Only the dark –  So take back most of what I said about the slower, gooey Pet Shop Boys songs. This works, I like it and though not ground-breaking shows the duo reaching in different directions.
  • Burning the heather – I think this sounds totally un-Pet Shop Boys but bigger and better fans might disagree with me. Regardless, something totally new and perhaps off the cuff. Wait, there’s an acoustic guitar in there? Yep. Told you. Totally unlike what we’ve come to expect from these guys!
  • Wedding in Berlin – hah! They capitalized Berlin. And they throw in some dance music just to keep you on your toes. It’s kind of goofy, but fun and if you like PSB and have yet to get married, well add this to your reception playlist. Seriously. I would have.

Tennant sounds no different than he did all those years ago and Hotspot could have easily come after or in between Very, Bilingual and Nightlife. Those of us who call the 80s home, and in some respects the 70s, have got it pretty lucky don’t we on the music front? All these bands that bring forth memories from our youth still cranking out new music and albums so many decades later. Who said the album format was dead?

Though the imprint of those classic smash hits from the 80s might rule our inner playlist, Pet Shop Boys continue doing what they do best – finding new musical patterns and flow, trying different approaches to song writing all the while keeping their nucleus intact. Hotspot should fit right in on the forthcoming Great Hits tour Pet Shop Boys have planned as some of the tracks off Hotspot should enjoy their deserved spot on the setlist.

Grade: B

Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot Track List:

  1. Will-o-the-wisp
  2. You are the one
  3. Happy people
  4. Dreamland
  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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. Wow, these guys are still going? My sister loved this act. Then again in this day and age, I shouldn’t be surprised as everyone is out and about doing stuff.
    PSB’s were never my deal but kudos to them for putting out new product.

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