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ADRIAN THRILLS reviews Pet Shop Boys' new album Hotspot 

by Bobbye Cushing (2020-08-30)


Hotspot (X2) 

Verdict: Sizzling return 


Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe didn't become the most successful British musical duo ever simply by following trends.

In spearheading a fusion of electronic sounds and dance music on such hit singles as West End Girls and It's A Sin, they set a template for modern pop.

Singer Tennant and keyboardist Lowe bonded over a common interest in dance music when they met by chance in a Chelsea electronics shop in 1981, and their enthusiasm for a genre that has given them four No.

1 singles and a slew of hit albums is undimmed almost four decades on.

British musician Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys performs at the World Stage on the first day of 'Rock in Rio', in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 15, 2017

Hotspot is their 14th album as the Pet Shop Boys and it reaffirms an ongoing renaissance that dates back to 2013's Electric.

The pair are famous for their droll humour — they nearly called one album Jollysight just because ‘it was a jolly sight better than the last one' — and their deadpan wit is to the fore again.

But they have acquired greater depth since their Eighties chart heyday and now, with Tennant 65 and Lowe 60, there's also plenty of reflection on songs as poignant as they are pulsating.
The roots of Hotspot go back to 2012's disappointing Elysium. Despite emerging in the wake of the pair's triumphant appearance in pointy hats and rickshaws at the London Olympics, it was a jaded effort that Lowe would later call ‘infirm'.

It did, however, lead to a rethink that ultimately saw them hook up with The Killers' producer Stuart Price to make Electric, a turbo-charged return to form and the first part of a Price-helmed trilogy that has since given us 2016's Super and now this album.

British producer Price's guidance isn't the only bond linking the Pet Shop Boys and The Killers.

When the latter headlined Glastonbury last year, they were joined onstage by Tennant and Lowe. Killers frontman Brandon Flowers has never hidden his admiration for the British duo, but a little of the American's urgency and swagger has also rubbed off on the Pet Shop Boys.

Hotspot was made partly in the same Berlin recording complex, Hansa Tonstudio, next to the Berlin Wall, that David Bowie and Iggy Pop used to create Low, Heroes, The Idiot and Lust For Life in 1977, and the spectre of the German capital looms large.

The album title is a nod to the city's location as a former Cold War ‘hotspot'.

Lowe's synths often have an old-school, analogue feel.

Set in Berlin, opening number Will-O-The-Wisp echoes the bubbling Euro-disco that Giorgio Moroder pioneered on Donna Summer's I Feel Love. Monkey Business is an unabashed party track that looks to Eighties electro while throwing in Daft Punk-style robotics.

Amid the many throwbacks, there are allusions to contemporary pop.
Inspired by the worldwide refugee crisis, Dreamland features an impressive turn by Olly Alexander, of London synth act Years & Years, who trades vocal lines with Tennant.

Wedding In Berlin is a celebratory house anthem built around Mendelssohn's famous march.

But the most enduring moments are more reflective. Tennant once admitted that some early Pet Shop Boys hits contained ‘irritatingly crass ideas'.

That's not an accusation that could be levelled at the nuanced Burning The Heather, an unexpectedly folky piece with a plaintive trumpet solo and former Suede man Bernard Butler strumming acoustic guitar.

An undated file photo of the Pet Shop Boys