In the archives of New Wave/Synthpop music, the English duo Pet Shop Boys remains to be among its stout and ubiquitous flag bearers that never failed every decade since their respective formation to release new music – alongside fellow prolific bands such as a-ha (Cast in Steel in 2015), Depeche Mode (Spirit in 2017), Duran Duran (Paper Gods in 2015), Echo & the Bunnymen (The Stars, the Oceans, and the Moon in 2018), Simple Minds (Walk between Worlds in 2018), and They Might Be Giants (The Escape Team in 2018). Now in early 2020, they are back with their fourteenth studio album Hotspot out on Friday, January 24th via x2 Records/Kobalt.
Originally formed in 1981, in London, England, by Neil Tennant (vocals, synthesizers, guitar) and Chris Lowe (keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals), Pet Shop Boys has an impressive discography from 1986’s Please to the aforementioned newest release, Hotspot. Produced by Stuart Price who also worked on 2013’s Electric and 2016’s Super, Hotspot opens with the filmic and ambient sound of “Will-o-the-Wisp,” whose familiar melodies will transcend the initiated to the suburban beginnings of Pet Shop Boys. A wave of calming oceans then plays next in the form of the R&B-flavored Synthpop ballad “You Are the One.” The ensuing, aptly titled “Happy People” undulates and then takes the listener to the dance floor of a neon-lit discotheque, where he will be transformed into a willing dancer.
Still in the same place where laser lights and mirror balls are kings and queens, Pet Shop Boys then treats its dancer to Hotspot‘s highlight–its lead single, “Dreamland,” which features Olly Alexander of the contemporary Electropop group Years & Years (who also co-wrote the song with Tennant and Lowe). And then there is “Hoping for a Miracle,” which displays once again Pet Shop Boys’ occasional penchant for soulful balladry, only to be followed by a similarly melodramatic yet more upbeat track, “I Don’t Wanna.”
Another trip down memory lane then comes next–“Monkey Business,” whose sonic aesthetics are reminiscent of Pet Shop Boys’ first albums, Please and Actually, coming to mind classics like “West End Girl,” “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” “Rent,” and “It’s a Sin.” After taking the now relaxed listener to their ’80s phase, Tennant and Lowe then pay homage to their brooding ’90s sound with the mellow midtempo “Only the Dark.”
Penultimately, “Burning the Heather” is a standout track and a treat especially for Britpop enthusiasts as it features distinctive acoustic-guitar jangles of Bernard Butler, the original guitarist of Suede (“Metal Mickey”). Tennant and Lowe then close Hotspot triumphantly with the celebratory mood of “Wedding in Berlin,” whose percussive beat and moving rhythm will remind again the listener that Pet Shop Boys is still masters of classy Electronic Dance Music.
The new decade is only in its nascent stage, and yet the unstoppable duo is already asserting their songwriting prowess and ability to connect to their followers. Hotspot is certainly a worthy addition to Pet Shop Boys’ ever-growing discography. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.