Album #18: Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot

  • Released: 2020
  • Origin: London, England
  • Label: x2
  • Best Track: Happy People

It’s a sure sign of mid-30s family life that the thing I now look forward to most on Friday nights is reruns of Top of the Pops on BBC Four. In the download and streaming age, today’s charts are pretty meaningless, but they also seem horribly bland. Perhaps it’s my age, but to me it sounds like there’s very little variety in the Top 40 these days. I heard a rundown of the weekly charts recently featuring a burst of every entry in it, and I was honestly left thinking “isn’t this all just the same song?”

The BBC Four reruns are currently working through the 1988/89 period, which includes some of my earliest memories of music at the age of four or five. I’m no connoisseur of pop music, but there are some great, catchy songs knocking about during this period that I’ve been reminded of, like Deacon Blue’s ‘Real Gone Kid’, the Four Tops’ ‘Loco in Acapulco’, and Boy Meets Girl’s ‘Waiting For a Star to Fall‘. Innercity’s ‘Good Life‘ has perhaps aged better than any of them – I’d have sworn it wasn’t that old – and there’s Enya’s hypnotic ‘Orinoco Flow‘, which I’ve realised is the earliest song I can remember (I previously thought it was ‘Loco in Acapulco’, but the reruns have shown my chronology to be out).

Sure, some of these songs are a bit naff, but they’re danceable, singable earworms that didn’t take themselves too seriously. And there’s been a fair bit of Pet Shop Boys too, which is probably what’s persuaded me to check out their new album released today

Hotspot is the duo’s fourteenth album, all of them with one-word titles, and their first in four years. The only song I’d heard from it was the single ‘Dreamland’, featuring Years & Years, which I wasn’t big on really. I know pop is what I should be expecting from them, but that one’s a bit too poppy for my liking. I could almost see it being the UK’s Eurovision entry!

Opening track ‘Will-o-the-Wisp’ is more what I like to hear from the boys – busy-sounding synth-pop where Neil Tennant’s vocals complement the music rather than being at the forefront. ‘Happy People’, too, is vintage Pet Shop Boys and is my pick of the tracks, with its spoken verse and superb chorus. The ballad ‘Only The Dark’ is another peak moment.

Other tracks work less well. ‘You Are The One’ and ‘Burning the Heather’ seem a little basic and, though I hate to say it, boring. The album ends with ‘Wedding in Berlin’, complete with integrated wedding bells in case the message isn’t obvious enough, but it sounds like a bit of corny attempt to write a synthy, dancy song for sentimental couples to play on their big day.

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a Pet Shop Boys album all the way through before, and although Hotspot is enjoyable in parts, I don’t think it will change that. Perhaps they’re a band I can appreciate the odd song by, but can’t really develop a true enthusiasm for.

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