Published Jan 21, 2020The last in an officially described trilogy of albums (all of which, including 2013's Electric and 2016's Super, were produced by Stuart Price), Hotspot finds veteran synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys delivering another fine album, full of the usual class and wit that so many others have tried and failed to match. It's well within their comfort zone, and arguably the least essential of the three, but it's perhaps only because Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have released so many excellent and more artistically adventurous albums over the years that those that are just reliably good stand out.
It's probably the most fun of the trilogy however, with a warmer, less detached style than its predecessors, and fewer overtly processed elements — late-album ballad "Burning the Heather" is built around an acoustic guitar, for instance, a sound the two haven't explored in a while. Many tracks hearken back to mid-career gems like Very and Yes as well — the bouncing rhythm and unfiltered piano of "Happy People," with its pseudo-rapping during the verse, is very '90s and very PSBs, and the chorus of "Dreamland" (a solid duet with next generation Brit synth-poppers Years & Years) hints at some of the full-throated diva wailing with which the boys used to pepper their albums. "Monkey Business" is the most obvious disco nod, however, almost to the point of being parodic, with its textbook bass line and string stabs, but it's honestly still quite fun.
Fun sums up Hotspot pretty well. Electric, with its extended run-times, whacky vocal treatments and explicit house/techno leanings, remains the best of this trilogy however — what a bracing and unexpected release that was (especially after the prosaic Elysium, something of a low point). There is nothing unexpected on Hotspot, but to trace the contours of the expected with Pet Shop Boys is never without reward, and they're certainly in fine form. Fans will find much to enjoy here, but Hotspot is best viewed as a victory lap. (Kobalt)