Album Reviews

Pet Shop Boys – Nonetheless

(Parlophone) UK release date: 26 April 2024

One of their best albums in years finds Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe harking back to their past in melancholic reflection

Pet Shop Boys - Nonetheless It’s been 39 years since Neil Tennant performed one of the most successful role reversals of the age, and left his job as journalist for Smash Hits magazine to become an actual pop star. While it’s hard to believe that Pet Shop Boys have been with us for almost 40 years, ever since that unmistakable synth intro to West End Girls crashed into our lives, they’ve gained National Treasure status.

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s 15th album together both sounds very like Pet Shop Boys while also managing to grow and evolve their sound. For Nonetheless (possibly the quintessential PSB album title), they’ve worked with in-demand James Ford as producer for the first time. There are more than a few tracks where the sort of strings that Ford used in his work with The Last Shadow Puppets are utilised, very effectively.

Of course, Tennant and Lowe have mixed strings with synths to great success before, and there’s more than a few points on Nonetheless which hark back to their past. Dancing Star has a subtle nod to Domino Dancing in its melody, while the big, string-drenched ballad The Secret Of Happiness is slightly reminiscent of the band’s Ennio Morricone collaboration It Couldn’t Happen Here.

As ever, there’s a huge streak of melancholy and reflection running through the record. Tennant turns 70 later this year, and has already described Nonetheless as the band’s “queer album”, looking back on his formative experiences as a young man moving to London in search of fun and fortune. Nowhere is that more apparent than on New London Boy, a gloriously wistful look back at Tennant’s early years in London. It’s full of Tennant’s sardonic humour (“Won’t be long till I have to get out of here, and live my invented life. Well, already that’s pretty queer”). By the time he’s launched into a rap about “everyone dancing to Roxy and Bowie” it feels like classic Pet Shop Boys on first listen.

Dancing Star, a tribute to ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev is, simply, a banger – instantly catchy and with a melody that nods to Madonna‘s Holiday, it’s a song that instantly takes root in your memory. It also features a chorus of “dancing star, more power than a tsar”, which is the sort of line that only Tennant could ever get away with it. The other single to be taken from the album, Loneliness, kicks off the album, and is less immediate but when the urgent, pulsing synths meld into Ford’s swirling strings, there’s an indefinable rush.

Above all, Nonetheless proves that nobody quite does ‘dancing while feeling a bit’ like Pet Shop Boys. Feel conjures up the same wistful poignancy that the likes of career high Being Boring did, with Tennant pouring out his heart to a significant other (“You make me feel like nobody else can… I will never let you down” runs the chorus) while the following Why Am I Dancing (introduced by a terrific fanfare) tackles loneliness and trying to start again in a new city – again, the autobiographical nature of the lyrics is made clear.

Bullet For Narcissus is a bit of an outlier, being one of the less personal tracks, a tale of a bodyguard drolly observing a fascist politician he’s supposed to protect, with lines like “devoted crowds who chant his song, I sometimes think he lives for fame” making it clear that a certain American businessman turned president could well be the subject.

Love Is The Law feels like a suitably epic closer – an almost cinematic ballad with Ford’s strings taking on John Barry-style proportions. You can nearly feel the curtain falling as the song ends. It’s a suitably big end for one of the best Pet Shop Boys albums in years, and, with a whole new generation discovering their music thanks to films like Saltburn and All Of Us Strangers, they look set to remain as enduring as ever.

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