By DAN MACINTOSH
Neil Tennant’s droll vocals are Pet Shop Boys’ primary distinctive, which makes Hotspot one more memorable musical chapter filled with of what we’ve come to love about this intelligent dance duo. Although nothing on it jumps out at you the way “West End Girls,” “It’s a Sin” and especially “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money” did in the past, many of the elements that made these songs hits are in full aural view with this latest full-length.
The album opens with “Will-o-the-Wisp,” which thumps to an enjoyably retro disco beat. You may recall the act’s sad cover of the Village People’s “Go West,” which turned a disco celebration into musical mourning over the AIDS epidemic. This time, though, Pet Shop Boys get into the groove for all it’s worth.
“Monkey Business” is another dance floor banger that – most likely – takes its aim at political ineptness. “Will-o-the-Wisp is so much more than a dance floor winner, however.
Tennant is also extremely effective whenever switching from his singing voice, to a kind of speak-singer. With this one, he wonders: “But maybe you’ve gone respectable/With a wife and job and all that.” Is this an old friend? An old lover? Tennant never reveals. One suspects they may have once had a sexual relationship, though, when Tennant injects toward track’s end: “Will you recognize me today? /Give me a smile for old time’s sake.” Whatever the story, this is personal revelation.
Pet Shop Boys are best known for dance music, but Tennant also has a lovely singing voice whenever performing more romantic sentiments. The duo’s version of “Always on My Mind” is right up there with Willie Nelson’s, which is high praise. The pair are at their musically loveliest on the gently swaying “You Are the One,” which features real acoustic piano.
Speaking of acoustic surprises, “Burning the Heather” includes an honest to goodness acoustic guitar intro. The album closes with its lone misstep, “Wedding in Berlin.” Over an overly familiar dance groove, Tennant does little more than sing the praises of marriage. It’s just a little too sincere of a lyric for these smarter-than-thou Pet Shop Boys, though. Where is that familiar sardonic and sarcastic tongue when we need it?
With that said, though, nine good songs out of ten is an especially great ratio. Popular dance music can be nearly indistinguishable these days. However, when a Pet Shop Boys song comes on the radio, you recognize it right away. Hotspot is chock full of songs that deserve a place on any of the better dance music playlists, and Pet Shop Boys prove they still know how to bring the heat.