“We’re falling for pleasure…”
The Pet Shop boys flaunt their own boutique brand; stylised synth pop that’s futuristic and urban – and safe to say, it continues to mature well. A notable flash back through the decades returns an effortless recall of the highlights; ‘West End Girls’, ‘Always on My Mind’ and ‘Heart’, effortlessly falling into line among many other numerous hits, and in terms of their latest release Hotspot, it’s impossible not to form expectations.
Not unlike their outfits at landmark points in their career, the colours of this new offering come in varying degrees of intensity. Pick your reference point, fast forward a decade (or two) and you’ll always find a relic you can identify with. Hotspot isn’t really any different in this respect – its undoubtably current, yet in part, it reflects back to some of their most distinctive and identifiable trademarks. It takes on many an opportunity to beat a path that forces a snapshot from other decades and notable points in time, when it comes to electronic music in all its formats; from the upbeat of house to robotic techno and beyond.
There is of course one constant – Neil Tennant remains the well-dressed gent – and takes us on a journey via various ramblings, that present a snapshot of the eccentric, the troubled or the ecstatic – depending on which route he chooses.
The album opens with ‘Will-o-the-Wisp’, a lively track with dancefloor styled hooks. It’s a spacious and urgent template of contrasts. If this is the track that sets your pace then the energetic amongst us will love the lively pulses of ‘I Don’t Wanna’, ‘Monkey Business’, ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Happy People.’ Neil doesn’t want to go dancing though, least that’s the message with ‘I Don’t Wanna’. It kicks off with a mysterious undertone, appears dark and imposing in parts, but picks up pace and has a pin sharp synth melody.
The retro ‘Happy People’ has a swirling musical subtext before it uncovers itself as an upbeat shimmering jaunty piece; a healthy mix of the new and the old – you’ll hear the progressions we all know from the days when deep house pulsed out of the warehouses. It fades to reveal its rich sounds as it all blends into an outro. Shifts from the retro feel to the current and classic Tennant vocal delivery.
The anthemic ‘Dreamland’ with its regal sounding opening is short, spritely and to the point; the tale of a utopian ideal encased in rich layers – think a kaleidoscope of synths and beats and strident embellishments.
The standout track is the upbeat and disco inspired ‘Monkey Business’ – an edgy and tantalising take on the nostalgic; speedy and full of bright lights and adventurous cityscapes. It’s furnished with the perfect blend of evocative strings set against stabs of synth. It gets exploratory with a digitalised vocal and a brief injection of brass and energetic keys that add yet more sex appeal. If this gives you the perfect hit, then the remixes are worth checking out for more extended experimentation around the themes we see here and are guaranteed to satisfy all thrill seekers.
Given the sizeable template of contrast in this album, there are of course the more meditative layers of backdrop coupled with the wildcards. ‘Hoping for a Miracle’ is slow and ethereal. Then there’s the radio friendly and perfectly ordinary ‘After the Dark’, the gentle caressing of the piano in ‘You are the One’ and an introduction that confirms it’s definitely at one with nature. More natural aspirations form with ‘Burning the Heather’ – flavoured with acoustic guitar, and from here on in we move from a gentle meander through time straight to the harsh Industrial-like ‘Wedding in Berlin’ which offers up purist techno blended with the celebratory bell like punctuation of the Wagner Bridal Chorus.
Hotspot is unmistakable Pet Shop Boys; their failsafe formula. With many of the tracks, there’s that feeling you’ve heard parts of them somewhere before. The Pet Shop Boys of course, manage to spin it all into their own unique blend alongside a narrative that blurs the lines between the personal, the political and the idealistic, all quietly contemplating vocally, against the electronic drama herein. A fitting cocktail hour accompaniment.
Hotspot is out now.