2020 release, the 14th studio album from the British electro-pop duo. Hotspot was mostly written and recorded in Berlin and Los Angeles and produced and mixed by Stuart Price. Features the singles "Dreamland" (featuring Years & Years) and "Burning the Heather".
There had previously been some gossip that the third act was going to be a quieter, reflective album and that Super had been the bridge between the two styles and pleasingly Hotspot is for the most part not that. Six of the tracks are glorious bangers and it is pleasing that the duo has continued in this style - apart from this time using warm, atmospheric analogue synthesizers - because if they had made a more peaceful record then it might have been no Behaviour and instead Elysium part 2. Crucially though, the main reason that this is an astute decision is that making a record completely in a style like e.g. Elysium, Release would not have suited Stuart Price strengths of being typically more of a dance producer.
Opener Will-O-The-Wisp is infinitely better than the cheesy Rednex-like Super first track, Happiness. Complete with frenetic beats/hi-hat and throbbing, tuneful synths it continues the winning dance formula of the two previous Price-produced records. About seeing a love interest for the first time in years and with its 80s/90s synth-pop feel it begins Hotspot with aplomb and is one of the standout tracks. Happy People is in a similar vein - full of sizzling hi-hat and catchy, house keyboards - and is simply classic Pet Shop Boys and one of the finest tracks on the album and sounds similarly somewhere between the band's 80s and 90s output, particularly sounding like it could have fitted on 1993's Very. Fourth track, Dreamland, is another dance-able song with Tennant returning to politics with its anti-Brexit and pro-immigration sentiments. It was a wise choice as lead single as it is another of the strongest songs with such an anthemic quality and the welcome vocals of Years and Years' Olly Alexander which fits the duo alongside the latest pop stars.
The second side of the record commences with I Don't Wanna which is another fantastic selection from Hotspot and concerns a shy individual who prefers to be alone and not venture out to the tiles and socialise. It is another banger with some gentler but still propulsive beats and the squelchy but melodic, analogue synths provide it with an 80s vintage Depeche Mode feeling. The following track and third single, Monkey Business, must be Hotspot at the peak of its powers as it concerns hedonism with Tennant and Lowe channelling their inner Daft Punk (slightly Jamiroquai too) with a funky 70s/80s sounding cut.
Although Hotspot for the most part comprises of dance-themed tracks it does move away from that style for four of its songs and so does mean that this final part of the trilogy is indeed slightly more ballad-based than Electric and Super. You are the One is a very good, tranquil and pleasant synth pop song clearly about a lover, while Only the Dark is similarly very strong with its gorgeous, analogue Human League/Heaven 17 sound. The finest of Hotspot's quieter almost-half of the record is Hoping for a Miracle which is yet another brilliant Tony Blair-referencing (according to Tennant, though Boris Johnson could be interchangeable) Pet Shop Boys song with the duo's trademark, majestic electro-pop melancholy. Ironically due to Tennant joking that acoustic guitars "should be banned," another decent song from the album is Burning the Heather with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler providing the Johnny Marr-esque guitar. It is extremely like a long lost track from their more fundamental (no pun intended) 2002 record, Release, and although it is not like a typical Stuart Price production it has beautiful, background electronic effects - particularly impressive after the second chorus - that provide the song with a deeper soundscape. Although it stands out from the other more strictly electronic songs it is welcome and another strong track, providing Hotspot with variety that was perhaps slightly missing from Electric and Super.
The closing track, Wedding in Berlin, is possibly the only slightly weaker one present on Hotspot. Although it is another dance anthem, the usage of that classical piece, The Wedding March, makes it a bit too formulaic and sounds a bit incongruous. However, although it is certainly half poor it is half likeable too at the same time as the pulsating beats and pounding synths are like a fitting finale to the Stuart Price-era.
Skilfully sounding retro and futuristic all at once, Hotspot is undoubtedly the third and final thrilling part of the Stuart-Price produced Pet Shop Boys trilogy. Although last year's EP Agenda had two great tracks in On Social Media and The Forgotten Child, the other two were cliched, unsubtle and too brash and this resolves any of that disappointment. Although the Dreamland and Burning the Heather singles' An Open Mind and Decide were excellent - like the duo's average B-side - Hotspot has the correct selection of tracks as they fit together best and provide the album with a coherence and balance. In fact, although thankfully this 2020 Pet Shop Boys record is not an Elysium-like affair and instead mostly comprised of bangers which suits the usage of Price as producer, with its four more ballad-like tracks - one including a prominent guitar for the first time since 2012 - it is surely the most diverse of the three albums. Apart from maybe Wedding in Berlin they are all very powerful songs and Will-O-The-Wisp, Happy People, Dreamland, Hoping for a Miracle, I Don't Wanna and Monkey Business are certain Pet Shop Boys classics. The vinyl version of this record is particularly noteworthy in its quality as it has such a crisp, wide range of sound and the background electronic sounds/effects on each song are clearly audible really showing off the depth of Price's production skills. Hotspot has been really well promoted this week and hopefully it can chart highly again like Electric and Super did and the imminent "greatest hits" tour sounds like it will be another enthralling Pet Shop Boys live show. Stuart Price will now part ways with the most successful duo of all time and although it would be nice to see Tennant and Lowe continue, they will have to choose really carefully a producer for another record as he has been one of the finest in their long and glorious thirty five year history, revitalising them with the trilogy of Electric, Super and Hotspot being their first genuinely great ones since 1999's Nightlife.
I think "Hotspot" is going to be a grower as, after the 1st listen, there's a few tracks which I wasn't too sure about (although to be fair, I did think to myself that they'll get better with more listens - the same thing happened with their "Behaviour" album, which I now count as one of my PSB favourites).
Album highlight for me has to be "Will-o-the-wisp" - it makes it worth the price of the CD alone. I know a few people don't like "Dreamland", but again, I love this track.
Finally, the "weirdest track of the year" award (and we're only January!) has to go to "Wedding in Berlin". Not sure I'll ever get into that one - although "The Sound of the Atom Splitting" was much the same and I ended up liking that one too...!
Pity about the lack of "AutoRip". First it wasn't listed as having it, then it was, and now it's disappeared again (looks like Amazon have sold out their allocation and it's left to the 3rd party suppliers).