The new album (such a Pet Shop Boys’ word), Hotspot is a majestic return to a beautifully consistent form. Having obsessed about their chart positions, b-sides, obscure formats and rare 12″ mixes during my adolescence and coming out, (“Please” sound tracked quite a few sunburned, vacation daydreams in late 80’s Florida and Cape Cod, later “Very” and the b-sides album “Alternative” kept me on dance-pop life support during my time trapped in the grunge of the 90’s West Coast) this new release feels like quite a step (back?) in the right direction.
I don’t mean to sound harsh because they are one of my all time faves, and artists shouldn’t stand still in time but I myself had slowly drifted away from my dance vows to Tennant and Lowe around the time of their internationally misunderstood “Bilingual.” Nevertheless, I’d always check back in with them whenever they’d release a new album. I have a concise (another PSB word) Spotify playlist of a wonderfully brilliant imaginary album made up of all the best tunes from their post Bilingual albums. I don’t say that to throw shade! Latter day, post-imperial phase PSB tunes like “Red Letter Day,” “Fugitive,” “Leaving,” “Flamboyant,” “Miracles,” “Invisible,” “Did you see me coming?,” and “The way it used to be” are fantastic, gorgeous pop songs.
This latest (and last release of a trilogy) with producer Stuart Price brings the Boys to Berlin- always a great idea for musical experimentation (see Bowie/Iggy etc legends, icons) but funnily enough they do the reverse- exposing their past perfect songwriting to a sort of creative solar radiation emitted from golden summer days in Berlin whilst mixing it with their prowess for capturing the dance vibe of the now. A kind of ease without pretense floods the album. Lyrically and emotionally the strongest set of tunes from them since “Behavior.” I lived in Berlin during 2001 and this album brings that summer right back into my senses like a memory remixed with a new bassline.
“Happy People” is brilliant- the ability to create an English version of Brazilian saudade in the capital of Germany is what the Pet Shop Boys are all about! The ominous start of “Will o’ the Wisp,” a cruising tune stocked with nostalgia and judgement, chugs along, seemingly manifesting out of a gay bar haze of strobe lights, vodka and fog machines. The tune and the lyrics seem completely casual, as if they have always existed, plucked out of the air and placed into a computer. No tortured turns of phrase here. “Monkey Business” starts out covering “West End Girls” for a few seconds then collapses down the stairs into the basement disco: fabulous, silly and addictive-with a weird retro Cabaret Voltaire/hip hop synth line stabbing out at your eyes and into your legs. Love it. The understated beauty of “You are the one” should be obnoxiously treacly. It is not. I think sincerity saves the day here.
OK well yeah “Wedding in Berlin” probably should have stayed off this collection, but “Only the dark’ makes up for it. Bring on the remasters, expanded liner notes, unreleased extra tracks and demos!
By James Derek Dwyer
Hotspot by Pet Shop Boys is out now.
Hotspot on Spotify:
PSB: Concise Post Bilingual Spotify Playlist: