Review Summary: The final part of the Stuart Price trilogy...
By the end of their melodic, mid-tempo driven phase developed during the ‘00s up to 2012, Pet Shop Boys accumulated quite a weight on their shoulders that was dragging them down. They often sunk in introspective thoughts and political themes, while struggling to maintain their music fresh and interesting. Aging in the pop genre usually marks as a career end, being fazed by passing trends and younger artists, so the duo decided to shed those fears and just have fun again. This is why 2013’s Electric
ended up as their most enjoyable ride of the last 20 years. The two brought back the early ‘90s techno, house and Hi-NRG blend that rejuvenated them and fans too. The “electronic purist” trilogy started by recording with Stuart Price in Berlin continued with 2016’s Super
. While indulging in the clubbing atmosphere, they also ventured in few other subdued directions. Overall, it felt a tad more diluted than its predecessor, however, it’s still a good, fun listen.
As the final part, Hotspot
gradually puts the party to an end, presenting us the come down too. Tracks such as ‘Will-O-the-Wisp’, ‘Happy People’ or ‘Dreamland’ continue to display powerful grooves, competing with the band’s highlights of last decade. The former is one of the strongest tunes here, focusing on more aggressive beats and synthesizer chords, while Neil’s lyrics talk about a promiscuous old flame (to put it nicely). His attitude and poignant voice fits very well the pummeling rhythms. Meanwhile, ‘Happy People’ focuses on pumping kicks and breezy synth pads, whereas the mix of spoken verses and angelic sung choruses is hypnotizing. Moreover, ‘Dreamland’, another excellent cut, featuring Olly Alexander (Years & Years) describes a utopian paradise where the fun never ends. The collaboration is beautiful as the front men meld their voices seamlessly. The music sounds glorious as well, boasting multiple familiar elements of the genre without feeling outdated or tepid. George Michael would be proud. Then, the sassy ditty, ‘I Don’t Wanna’ follows with its playful keyboard leads and bright, electric disco bass notes. It makes for a smooth transition towards the more subdued part of the LP that sets in sooner than it should.
Similar to a Sunday morning, with a despising hangover, ‘Hoping for a Miracle’ brings you back to the less enticing reality. Its subject is the anguish an unfulfilled life can cause. You can be destined for success and major accomplishments on many levels, still, it doesn’t mean it will automatically happen. ‘Burning the Heather’ shares themes of loneliness and time passing by, thus aging. I believe the song would have had more impact had it been a couple of minutes shorter. On the other side, ‘You Are the One’ and ‘Only the Dark’ have a brighter tone, yet they were not both necessary on the album. They are somewhat bland and don’t boost Hotspot
in any way. Same goes for the closing number, ‘Wedding in Berlin’, where the lyrics ended up quite lazy. The music is not sub par and lifts the record a bit from the more low-key latter half, but Neil could have written something more thoughtful for the occasion.
Despite its flaws, Hotspot
deserves its place on the upper shelf of Pet Shop Boys’ discography. It’s the most complete journey from this Stuart Price trilogy, although not the most rewarding to be honest (the spot still belongs to Electric
). Even so, it’s admirable how the duo manage to be this consistent and have removed all signs of rust lately. There is a certain degree of nostalgia in the lyrics and music, however, you don't have to get swallowed by it and miss the fun you can have. It mustn't be an overwhelming feeling that should drag you down even if you’re not young anymore. For those who haven’t bothered with the pop veterans since their golden days, I encourage you to grab these last three albums and rediscover them.