wed 22/05/2024

Album: Pet Shop Boys - Nonetheless | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Pet Shop Boys - Nonetheless

Album: Pet Shop Boys - Nonetheless

Longing, love and longevity as the duo resolutely refuse retirement

National Treasures in waiting: the Pet Shop Boys celebrate 40 years with their 15th album

This album came with an absolutely enormous promo campaign. As well as actual advertising there were “Audience With…” events, and specials on BBC radio and TV – the latter an Imagine special with Alan Yentob really going in with sledgehammer subtlety to set the Pet Shop Boys up as National Treasures as they approach the 40th anniversary of their first single “West End Girls”.

The thing is, though, they deserve it: not just the career retrospective but the free boost for their new work. 

For many acts, this kind of documentary, packed with friends and colleagues chuntering away agreeably would be a marker of semi-retirement, of the drift into endless greatest hits and celeb collaborations. However, not only did it show Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe on sparkling form as anecdotalists, but they were clearly bubbling with creative appetite.  

They’ve reinvented themselves as a global touring band – Tennant taking on a new performance persona that gloriously mixes Butlins Red Coat, stern children’s-fiction headmaster and Frankie Howerd – and were clearly still hugely enjoying both playing live and the studio process. 

That shines out of their 15th album and first with producer James Ford. In some senses it’s a formula Pet Shop Boys album – their utterly distinctive songwriting and performance style unchanged in those four decades – but at the same time it’s full of invention. Lowe’s synths are glossier and fizzier than ever, and more integrated with the lavish orchestral parts they’ve made a speciality ever since their turn to ballet circa 2009, and Tennant’s lyrics and delivery are just a joy.

He’s really taken to the elder statesman role, and there’s a running theme here of reminiscence about escaping to the city as a young gay man and celebrating the new generations doing likewise now. “Follow the style, plastic and showy / Everyone’s dancing to Roxy and Bowie”, he recalls In “New London Boy”, reviving his semi-rapped style from “West End Girls”. Throughout, even when he’s singing about loneliness, fear and alienation, or waspishly picking out others’ narcissism, it’s with a sense that there is love and connection to be discovered somwhere out there. 

As it goes on, it’s obvious this is what keeps the PSBs alive: it’s about love, it’s about community, it’s about dancing. It’s the reason Tennant has never become embittered and solipsistic like his fellow poet of camp English melancholy, Morrissey. And it’s why, well into their sixties, the duo are able still to make convincing pop music. OK the high-sugar Eurovision delirium of “The Schlager Hit Parade” is a bit much – but other than that, sonically, lyrically and emotionally this is an absolute marvel of an album. Genuinely inspirational. 

@joemuggs

Listen to "Loneliness":

Tennant takes on a new performance persona that gloriously mixes Butlins Red Coat, stern children’s fiction headmaster and Frankie Howerd

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