Album reviews: Pet Shop Boys – ‘Hotspot’, and Gengahr – ‘Sanctuary’

Roisin O'Connor
The Pet Shop Boys perform live: Rex

Pet Shop BoysHotspot

★★★★☆

Pet Shop Boys have an uncanny sense of timing. It’s what made the synth-pop duo’s surprise appearance at Glastonbury during The Killers’ headline set so joyous; in 2019, their political song “Give stupidity a chance”, which mocked Donald Trump and Michael Gove, felt necessary, rather than opportunistic.

Their 14th album, Hotspot, reminds you just how embedded Pet Shop Boys are in British popular culture. It opens on the resplendent Eighties-style dance track “Will-o-the-wisp”, a pounding nod to their “imperial phase” where they dominated the charts. From there, Hotspot teeters somewhere between their ballad-heavy album Behaviour (1990) and 1988’s shimmering dance record Introspective.

Neil Tennant’s idiosyncratic vocals drift across the analogue squeal of “I don’t wanna”; on the disco-fuelled “Dreamland” he’s joined by Olly Alexander of Years & Years, where the pair engage in a subtle protest: “You don’t need a visa/ You can come and go and still be here.” By the time the bells chime on “Wedding in Berlin”, a jubilant celebration of same-sex marriage, you sense this album is intended as an expression of hope for the future, rather than a fond look back.

Gengahr Sanctuary

★★★☆☆

On Gengahr’s third album, Sanctuary, frontman Felix Bushe is preoccupied by the space between things. Written while his wife was living on the other side of the world, these songs cast him as a modern-day Odysseus, tackling monsters – corporeal or otherwise – in order to return to his waiting love. Yet it’s easier to imagine Bushe as Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, such is the way he mingles longing with patience.

Sanctuary is Gengahr’s most expansive work to date, recorded in the newly renovated Propagation House studio in Cornwall with Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman. The rippling synths evoke waves against the shoreline – at times this makes for a deeply hypnotic listen; elsewhere the music just washes over you. Best is the shuffling disco-fused pop of “Heavenly Maybe”, about partying to forget your troubles, and the bloopy “Anime”.

Sanctuary is a considerable step up from the numbing experience of 2018’s Where Wildness Grows – while the previous album dealt in vague statements, here the band choose to explore the full spectrum of human emotion.