Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Pet Shop Boys' prowess returns on Nonetheless


Release date: 26 April 2024
PSB Nonetheless cover
25 April 2024, 09:00 Written by Simon Heavisides

Pet Shops Boys’ fifteenth feels like autumn in springtime.

Could Neil Tennant or Chris Lowe ever have imagined their incredible creation still existing in 2024? Well here we are, and Pet Shop Boys have reached album number fifteen, the stoically titled Nonetheless.

Interviewed recently, Tennant expressed relief that in the streaming era ageism in music is “a thing of the past’, musing that, “age doesn’t seem to matter anymore because the music doesn’t seem to have aged.”

Perhaps that’s why the duo appear to be wearing their longevity lightly. Over those forty-plus years, we’ve been spared the inter-band drama while Pet Shop Boys simply move relentlessly on to the next project. It has always been eminently clear that they care, especially about the details, something reflected in their audience who can display a tendency towards harsh appraisals of certain releases. From its indistinct cover to its contents, 2020’s Covid becalmed Hotspot had a tentative aura about it, masking was actually a perfectly decent record, but this time round the veil feels lifted.

A classic Pet Shop Boys-like single-word title, artwork with a fair bit of white within the design and a return to Parlophone Records – the signs are all very intriguing but of course may be typical PSB red herrings. A glance back towards a ‘golden age’ or simply the beginning of a new phase in their history? Certainly, there will be those who are very happy to say goodbye to the Stuart Price era with James Ford (cue client list of multiple massive names of the last twenty years or so) now producing, chosen for his analogue synth abilities as well as being equally adept when it comes to string arranging.

Someone has cruelly quipped that initial single “Loneliness'’ sounds like “Pet Shop Boys AI” and there lies the challenge for any artist with such a glorious history: the merciless, sometimes vitriolic, judgment of longtime fans. The song is actually an excellent bruised heart-tugger with distinct echoes of Elysium’s highlight “Leaving” and operates as an effective opener, prepping well for the clean lines, sweeping strings and lightly pneumatic Kraftwerkisms of “Feel”. Both tracks trade very effectively in the type of uniquely English, wistful elegia that Neil and Chris have made their own.

Yes, “New London Boy” features a spoken word/rap segment that can’t fail to recall “West End Girls” in both lyrical location and execution. Some may quibble but as the track eases into its nostalgic reverie, successfully staking out its emotional territory, you realise this may well be a modern Pet Shop Boys classic. Its autobiographical tale of becoming your real self amidst the ever-changing, swirling London cityscape is quintessential Pet Shop Boys. A story of essential escape with a lineage tracing back to Bronski Beat’s epochal “Smalltown Boy” it nonetheless remains universal.

It’s not the only time the past is brought into the present, second single “Dancing Star” aspires to a “Domino Dancing” style propulsive grandeur and comes satisfyingly close.

And then we have sweeping pieces like the gorgeous “A New Bohemia”, its lyrics conjuring the sixties, as does the arrangement featuring more strings and real drums. Not for the last time the mood of a record released in spring is defiantly autumnal.

“The Secret of Happiness” maintains the mood and the quality level, but sandwiched in between comes this record’s possible bone of contention, “The Schlager Hit Parade”. An overly jaunty paean to musical escapism that mentions Christmas far too much and doesn’t land successfully. It will probably find its champions but maybe should have become a B-side. Still, it doesn’t hurt an album with so much to offer.

Nonetheless feels airy and welcoming, qualities that have sometimes eluded its more recent predecessors, it resonates emotionally in ways that befit elder statesmen who can look to the future while comfortably acknowledging the past.

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