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Pet Shop Boys | Hotspot | x2

4 out of 5

There are certain bands that have mastered a musical niche that never quite goes out of style. The Pet Shop Boys is one of those bands, as its newest, Hotspot, proves. It helps that the Boys – Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe – are in particularly fine form here, while the formula that they first mined back in the ’80s still sounds as invigorating as ever.

The Pet Shop Boys have always traded in synth-pop a bit moodier than the norm. Tennant’s songs have a lot on their minds, but they never skimp on danceability. Case in point: the driving opening track of Hotspot, “Will O’ The Wisp,” which features a trenchant character sketch of someone desperately clinging to a way of life that the narrator finds both foolish and intriguing. But you’re OK if you don’t even focus on the lyrics, as the yearning melody of the verses contrasts the sung-spoke choruses in alluring fashion.

“I don’t wanna go dancing,” Tennant protests at one point, but the sprightly beats are relentless. Most of the time the propulsive rhythms are contrasted by minor keys and Tennant’s deadpan delivery. When Tennant does a little strutting on “Monkey Business” (“They tell me I’m a legend ‘round these parts/I start the party and I end up breaking hearts,”) it’s tongue-in-cheek and winning.

Tennant and Lowe also show their facility with romantic sentiments on pretty tracks like “You Are The One” and “Only The Dark.” When they bring the acoustic guitars up a bit higher in the mix on “Burning The Heather,” the bittersweet beauty feels like another highlight in a career full of them. Good stuff all around from a band that makes it look easy by keeping true to what got it here in the first place.

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