Unlucky for some, but lucky for you - Pet Shop Boys fourteenth album, Hotspot is here. It includes the single Dreamland which features Years & Years - a band that probably wouldn’t exist at all if it wasn’t for the Godfathers of chart friendly synth pop. Judging by the single, the duo are still capable of knocking out a decent tune too.
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The Pet Shop Boys have never been quite the same since the Berlin Wall fell. Of course, the duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe was the quintessential Cold War band, terse and surly but also full of a certain perverse joie de vivre that can only come with the knowledge that you might be atomised at any moment. All of this gave them a unique ability to able to plumb escapist pop with politics at once subtle and urgent. However, the band have always seemed slightly lost since 1991, and it's fitting that their 1993 single ‘Go West’, released as a direct response to the fall of the wall, stands as their last major contribution to popular culture.
Recent years have seen the pair spend more time in Berlin - perhaps in an attempt to summon the spirit of that once-divided city as a way of refreshing a sound that has become increasingly out-of-step with 21st Century developments in popular music. ‘Hotspot’, the band’s fourteenth studio LP, is very much a Berlin album. As well as the last track literally being called ‘Wedding In Berlin’ (Wedding, by the way, is the name of one of the city's districts) ‘Will O’ The Wisp’ and ‘You Are The One’ reference places in and around the city.
Pet Shop Boys play to the gallery here. There are several chunky house grooves across ‘Hotspot’, another example of the band’s give-and-take with the German capital. ‘Will O’ The Wisp’ and ‘Monkey Business’ teeter on the edge of gaudy and arch in a way that only Tennant and Lowe can. They still sound about twenty years behind the modern popsphere, but their ability to summon some of the old cold comfort is pleasing. Despite its weak chorus Tennant’s sing-speak verses ‘Happy People’ does something similar, and ‘Wedding In Berlin’ closes the album out by eschewing dry wit for straight-up gags via some funny interpolations of wedding music.
Sadly the consistent complaints about latter-day Pet Shop Boys remain here. ‘I Don’t Want To’ and ‘Burning The Heather’ are too comfortable - the former is a stodgy ballad that retreads old ground, the latter also reaches back two decades but rather unfortunately ends up channeling Zero7. ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Hoping For A Miracle’ suffer from a curiously modern PSB phenomenon - whereas once Tennant’s aloof delivery and lyrics were mysteriously evocative, it’s now unclear if the lack of specificity in his demeanour is meant to be read as utopian or simply uninspired.
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