Pet Shop Boys
Pet Shop Boys have been a thinking-person’s dance band for three and a half decades now, with silent and stone-faced beat-maker Chris Lowe leading the way to the disco while ambivalent wordsmith Neil Tennant drolly calculates the emotional cost of loving the nightlife, baby.
Hotspot is not a flat-out fabulous Pet Shop Boys record in the vein of such previous one-word-title career linchpins as 1987’s Actually or 1993’s Very. But that would be a little too much to expect at this late stage, with both Pets now in their seventh decade. Recorded in Berlin with producer Stuart Price — a Madonna collaborator who previously worked with the Pets — Hotspot works best when it plays it cool.
The straight-up party starter “Monkey Business” is silly and lightweight to a fault, Tennant at his least clever. And while “Wedding In Berlin” is a smart business move, a ready-made all-inclusive wedding anthem for celebrants both gay and straight, it’s also not terribly imaginative: “We’re getting married, married, married” is not the most creative lyric from Tennant, the former Smash Hits music critic.
But the songs on this well-made album that ponder longing and loneliness and whether it’s worth summoning the energy to head out for another night at the club — those are winners.
“Happy People” captures “that feeling of epic grandeur at the end of a summer’s day / That sense of so much missing, when the world gets in the way.” And “Burning the Heather,” which has been interpreted as Tennant mulling whether or not there’s a place for the Pets in post-Brexit England, conjures a lovely autumnal energy as he plays it coy about risking a romantic connection: “Seasons are changing, time’s moving along / Give me a drink and I’ll be gone.” — Dan DeLuca
(Young Money/Republic ***)
Yes, it’s too long. The Wayne we know and adore won’t truly be “back” until he can refrain from unloading 24 tracks in 76 minutes on his fans. But Funeral, the second offering of Weezy’s comeback period that began with 2018’s long-awaited and surprisingly maudlin Tha Carter V, is worth an old fan’s time. The hypnotic “Mahogany” and completely bonkers “Mama Mia” (wherein he brags about performing a sex act with a woman’s breasts while her baby nurses) alone comprise the man’s greatest thrills since 2013.
There are 22 more tracks with too much Auto-Tune, dotted with keepers nonetheless: the Kanye-inspired robo-gospel “Dreams,” the overdue New Orleans bounce of “Clap for Em,” the monster closer “Wayne’s World” (“party time, excellent, pardon my excellence”). The oddly-named Funeral tries too hard where his classics are laid-back, and there’s too much “pistol-whip you till you know the serial number by heart” to be truly fun. But all over it you can hear the Best Rapper Alive gearing up for something big. — Dan Weiss
(Outside Music ***)
Anyone who remembers Candye Kane knows that everything about the late singer was big — her voice, the personality she projected through her songs, and her physical presence. Sub out Kane’s blues and R&B for country and rockabilly, and you get an idea of Tami Neilson’s colorful, retro-tinged dynamism on Chickaboom!
The Canadian, now based in New Zealand, comes out swinging, figuratively, on “Call Your Mama,” which drips with attitude and reverb as she kisses off the man who did her wrong. Other numbers, like the propulsive “Hey, Bus Driver!” and the percussive “Queenie, Queenie,” offer cogent and sometimes pointed observations about the rigors of being a traveling musician and mother. “Mama’s gotta hustle, do another show/ ‘Cause they don’t play a lady-o on country radio,” she spits out on “Queenie.” And “Sister Mavis” is a rousing tribute to the queen of gospel-soul, Mavis Staples.