sat 22/02/2020

Album: Pet Shop Boys - Hotspot | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Pet Shop Boys - Hotspot

Album: Pet Shop Boys - Hotspot

PSB find nostalgic reveries in the dancefloor's shadows

Remembrance of clubs past motivates Neil Tennant at 65. The melancholy and wit which gave ambiguity and amused bite to the Pet Shop Boy’s pop pomp has matured naturally into distanced reflections on hedonism. Recorded partly in Berlin’s iconic Hansa studio, Hotspot's vintage synths add a mechanistic clank and tactile detail to their music’s glide, the Hi-NRG pulse which so entranced them in the 1980s now part of a Proustian rather than active E rush. Having ceded their place at pop’s heart at the century’s start, they now burnish memories and paint characters like old masters.

Ray Davies, for instance, might well have written “Will O’ the Wisp”, if he had moved from North London net curtains to Berlin, “the city where men don’t wait in vain”, as a clubland rake and dandy in a battered leather cap fondly comes to mind. In Tennant’s deadpan recitation, perhaps he’s faked a life since as a well-respected man, “with a wife and a job and all that/working for the local government/and living in a rented flat.” The music’s pumping grandeur instead leaves him on an eternal, attractive high.

“I Don’t Wanna” is more moving, as a sexually timid introvert edges out of his room to be freed by a song, discovering that “rhythm’s a dancer/and it won’t take no for an answer”. Tennant’s sugary yet raw vocal soothes, even as the beat pounds. Amidst the chiming keyboards of “Happy People”, too, “the soul is in the hi-hat”. If the Pet Shops Boys are evangelists for anything, it’s the power of cheap dance music.

They cut closer to the modern bone in “Hoping for a Miracle”, about a privileged “child of the sun” who might be Boris Johnson, waiting for the world to drop into his lap. Except that here there’s more fall than rise, in an atmospheric vignette which could equally be occurring a century ago: “At Waterloo Bridge you got lost in the fog...”

Better still, “Burning the Heather” rides the organic strum of Bernard Butler’s guitar into the shadows of some obscure Northeastern English pub, where trumpets and padded splashes of drums also accompany an apparent success suddenly out of his depth, stumbling and found out. “I’m not that guy, I’m just the singer of the song,” Tennant protests, hinting that he could be this loneliest star.

Otherwise maintaining apparent distance in its character sketches, and merely tweaking familiar sounds, Hotspot is exactly what you’d expect from a Pet Shop Boys album now.

If the Pet Shops Boys are evangelists for anything, it’s the power of cheap dance music

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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