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In a world of their own

Album number 15 adds an astonishing new piece to the ever-expanding artwork and parallel universe that is Pet Shop Boys.



The mind boggles to think it was 40 years ago when the original version of West End Girls was released to the world. As a man as old as a properly matured single malt whisky – and, arguably, disco music, if Barry White’s Love’s Theme released in 1973 is considered the first of its genre – I’ve followed the Pet Shop Boys’ journey almost from the very beginning. They’ve become an integral part of my life, offering life-changing, spine-tingling moments of pure joy, comfort, revelation, and pride in being a “Pethead”. My love affair with the boys is partly documented at least here and here.


And now, in the spring of 2024, it simply shouldn’t be possible how Neil and Chris have managed to create a record that immediately crashed into my all-time Top 3 of Pet Shop Boys albums. Nonetheless knocked Electric to fourth place, with Behaviour and Very still holding on to the two top positions.


Perhaps it’s due to my ongoing mid-life crisis, post-divorce state of unrest, self-pity, and nothingness – and disappointment of being professionally and mentally stuck in a rut when I would rather be a DJ and author – but a PSB album hasn’t caused such shivers and brought this many tears to my eyes from the very first listen since I don’t know when. Then again, I’ve only recently concluded that I’m a somewhat hypersensitive personality, unable to give an account on the pompous scenes of a teaser trailer for a new Star Wars series, a video of a marmot eating a cabbage, or indeed quote an ingenious Neil Tennant lyric without getting all pink-eyed and weepy.


I can feel tears in my eyes / my comfort zone

Why am I dancing?


Another thing that always gets to me and turns me into a watery mess are soaring string arrangements – preferably combined with analogue synths – and boy have they made a world-class comeback on this latest long player! Much of this is thanks to uber-producer de jour James Ford, praised in interviews by Neil and Chris as a talented multi-instrumentalist who urged the boys to strip down their typically well-formed and complex demo recordings for this album, allowing more room for the arrangements to breathe.


And that’s exactly what’s happened. There’s a certain airiness and feeling of ease throughout the album, with Neil possibly delivering the best-sounding and most emotional vocals of any PSB record, and Chris conjuring up melodies and hooks that are as strong as ever. There are various classic lyrics showcasing Neil’s craft at its best and make the album unfold like a collection of short stories, with topics ranging from the feeling of being left outside the in-crowd and finding out who you are in your formative years, to the contempt felt by Trump’s bodyguard towards the person they are supposed to protect.


My life is a mess / like an unmade bed

A new bohemia


Nonetheless gets better with each listen, and demands to be enjoyed in running order, from start to finish. For me, this is also the first Pet Shop Boys album since Electric that doesn’t have a single skippable track or odd one out. Even the token wacky track The schlager hit parade makes sense in the context, and is actually catchy, unlike Hotspot’s only misfire Wedding in Berlin that should have remained what it originally was – an inside joke and wedding gift for friends.


Nonetheless is almost like a collection of some of the best bits of what PSB has to offer within their unique world. There are hints of Behaviour’s melancholy on A new bohemia and New London boy – elevated to a completely new level with Neil’s West end girls style rap – and Love is the law, which I consider to be the best closing track on a Pet Shop Boys album since Jealousy. Instant classic.

 

Follow the style / plastic and showy / everyone’s dancing / to Roxy and Bowie

New London boy

 

Dancing star references the sounds of their very first album Please, Bullet for Narcissus has a harder house sound that wouldn’t be out of place on the Stuart Price produced trilogy of albums, and Feel and Why am I dancing hark back to the ultrapop of both Very and Yes. Loneliness was a curious one at first and felt like it was straight off the brilliant Jessie Ware album What’s Your Pleasure? also produced by James Ford. Now it’s turned in my mind into a real PSB classic sad banger, made even better as a single package together with the glorious b-side Through you.



The run-up to the release of Nonetheless has been a wonderful time to be a Pethead. I don’t remember seeing such high-profile media coverage for a PSB release in the UK for quite a while, with the fabulous Imagine…Then and Now BBC documentary as the crown jewel. Even for a hardcore fan, the documentary offered completely new information, including fascinating snippets of their very first original demo tapes. And what’s more, the show had various clips from my home country, of N&C walking in Helsinki, and all the backstage scenes were from Helsinki Ice Hall before their gig last summer.


Indeed, it seems like the boys may have a special relationship with Finland – as they continue to come back on tour. This summer it’s the turn of Pori Jazz festival to play host to the Dreamworld tour, and I’ll be there – enjoying performance number 17 of my Pet Shop Boys live history.



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