Pet Shop Boys / Nonetheless review

SDE’s track-by-track assessment

Pet Shop Boys / New album nonetheless

SDE takes you through the new album, track-by-track

Pet Shop Boys 15th studio album saw Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe work with a new producer, James Ford. Their trilogy of long-players with producer Stuart Price ended on a high, with 2020’s Hotspot, a record this site described as “rather enjoyable”.

Like Hotspot, Nonetheless doesn’t outstay its welcome and offers 10 tracks all in the ballpark of 3-5 mins in length. Ford’s contribution is significant; as well as producing he contributes “additional programming, keyboards, guitars, percussion and drums”.

Opener ‘Loneliness‘ rewards repeated listens. Initially, I wasn’t too sure, but like many of the best Pet Shop Boys songs it combines melancholy and minor chords with beats and ultimately a caring optimism (“everyone needs time to think / no one can live without love”). It’s very catchy and the extended outro on the album version is lovely. A great start.

Feel‘ has skippy, vaguely house-y piano style beat before the strings and keyboard lines come in. Neil’s harmony vocals at the beginning sound precise and rather lush. The verses have a quick vocal pace before the chorus slows down with the draggy “you make me f-e-e-l like – nobody else can”. ‘Feel’ is a bright and breezy number. Initially, it ‘feels’ rather lightweight, and there’s certainly an almost childlike simplicity to the lyrics, but like much of Nonetheless its charms unfurl slowly. The beats sound good at the end, but it’s still surprising that this song is so high up the running order of the album.

‘Why Am I Dancing?’ has a literal fanfare at the beginning at the beats fade up. Given that Neil has reluctantly acknowledged that Nonetheless is what you might call Pet Shop Boys ‘lockdown’ album (he learnt how to program on Garageband), it’s not surprising that as with ‘Loneliness’, the lyrics address isolation (“Why am i dancing – when I’m so alone?). Again, there’s that seductive melancholy that pervades this song and it has a wonderful melody with a great tone to Neil’s vocal delivery. Like all the songs on this album, there are strings in the arrangement but the beats still come through strongly and have a vaguely retro feel to them.

New London Boy‘ is one of the best songs on the album. It has a beautiful laid back intro with sprightly arpeggiated keyboards coming in. ‘Bouncy’ is the adjective I’d used to describe the beginning of this song. Right at the beginning, Neil speaks the words “I remembering wondering… ” suggesting this might be spoken word all the way through but no, he completes the thought by singing in falsetto “Who am I? – and what will I turn out to be?”. The lyric is one of nostalgia as Neil looks back to being “a new London boy – like so many others – hanging around – with my glam rock brothers”. ‘New London Boy’ is elevated by Neil indulging in a wonderful ‘West End Girls’ style rap (“follow the style – plastic and showy – Everyone’s dancing to Roxy and Bowie”, he ‘sings’). Inevitably this lends this song a PSB authenticity; a feeling of being ‘classic’ Pet Shop Boys. It wouldn’t be out of place as a track on their second album, Actually.

‘Dancing Star’ was a good choice for the second single. It celebrates the life and spirit of Rudolf Nureyev, the Soviet-born ballet dancer who defected to the West in 1961 (“Jumped the barrier at Orly airport – claimed political asylum there”). There’s a simplicity to the arrangement which again harks back to early Pet Shop Boys and the documentary aspect to the lyrics echoes Chris and Neil’s composition ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ which was, of course, sung by Dusty Springfield. The orchestral stabs, the synth bass and in particular the middle eight section with the handclaps are all vintage Pet Shop Boys.

A New Bohemia‘ is a ballad which starts ‘Side B’ of the album, if you have the vinyl version. Neil has confirmed that this will be the third single. The song has a traditional pop/rock structure with the first verse as Neil sings to a simple piano accompaniment before drums and strings fill out the sound for the chorus, which is very strong in terms of melody (“Where have they gone, les Petites Bons-Bons?”). You can read more about Les Petites Bons-Bons here. A New Bohemia flows effortlessly and exhibits a pleasing, evocative yearning for a lost era.

The Schlager Hit Parade‘ starts with acoustic guitars, for a slightly different vibe. The whole song is a commentary on Schlager music, a style of European music generally defined by catchy instrumental accompaniments to vocal-driven pop with simple and often sentimental lyrics; which is why Neil sings “It’s always Christmas or the sound of summer – in the Schlager Hit Parade” at the end of each chorus, where the song leans most towards ‘Go West’ (cheesy?) style Pet Shop Boys. There’s perhaps a hint of politics in the break (“The future is forever – let’s not dwell on the past”) but generally speaking this a straightforward song that adopts the Schalger style to make a point. It’s not necessarily cool, but it is catchy.

The Secret of Happiness‘ is a floaty, dreamy number driven by a bossa nova beat and beautiful sunny imagery, from Neil. The verse melody, when expressed by the horns, flirts with easy-listening, but the chorus is lovely; sophisticated, balanced, melodic and boasts a very cinematic string/horns arrangement. Tennant proves himself one of pop’s deftest lyricists with some lovely turns of phrase, particularly the break towards the end where he sings about how the secret of happiness “was always concealed from me”.

After the soft underbelly of the last few tracks it’s good to be back in clubland with ‘Bullet For Narcissus’ and its stripped back beats and quick punctuated guitar figures. After a few bars of intro, there’s a wonderfully catchy guitar lead line to usher us into the first verse. Neil takes pot shots at the titular Narcissus who we could read as any number of people in 2024 (“His politics are simply mean – he doesn’t trust what he hasn’t seen”). The strings are present, as with all the songs on the album, but you wonder if there was a case for doing this track without and them and giving this song a slightly harder edge. Still, it’s great and elements of that guitar line and the arrangement took me back to ‘Behaviour’.

Nonetheless ends with the very atmospheric and rather brilliant ‘Love is the Law’. As with ‘Bullet For Narcissus’, the textures, sounds and arrangement are Behaviour-esque to these ears. This denouement is night and day when compared to the rather trite ‘Wedding in Berlin’ at the end of Hotspot. Another brilliant lyric, Neil sings “Love is the law but you can’t regulate it – The desire is so strong and you won’t moderate it”. It’s a very strong end to the record.


Nonetheless really does deliver the goods. There are no duffers on the album and a pleasing variety of styles and sounds which often deploy elements that remind you of Pet Shop Boys at their best. Inevitably, the album’s highs don’t match the peaks of imperial phase PSB, but was anyone expecting that, 40 years after the Bobby Orlando version of ‘West End Girls’? James Ford appears to be a sympathetic and inspiring collaborator and the (real) strings are used with a reasonably light touch – don’t go away thinking this is an ‘orchestral’ album – it’s not. Impressive.

Bonus content: Furthermore review

For deluxe CD and vinyl editions of Nonetheless, Pet Shop Boys have included four new recordings of old songs: ‘Heart’, ‘Being Boring’, ‘Always On My Mind’ and ‘It’s a Sin’ (three UK number ones). These were recorded in 2021 and are all produced by Pet Shop Boys.

‘Heart’ has a leaner, clubbier vibe and the post chorus melody of ‘ahhs’ is not the same as the original but ultimately it’s not that different and it’s hard not to wonder, what’s the point? It’s noticeable that two out of the four tracks were originally produced by Julian Mendelsohn; was there some aspect to the original productions that the PSBs were never 100 percent happy with? ‘Being Boring’ was produced by Harold Faltermeyer and most fans would consider song and production near-perfect. The re-recording doesn’t improve on the original (obviously) with Tennant’s vocal delivery not matching the original. This new version a bit clubbier with touches of house piano. The most interesting part is in the middle where Neil speaks over the music and explains how his friend in Newcastle inspired the song. Despite fairly aggressive sequenced beats at the beginning, ‘Always On My Mind’ is the least successful of the songs on Furthermore. The horn sound is, frankly, awful and the arrangement is virtually identical, just not as good. “Siri, give me an inferior version of Always On My Mind”. Pointless. The new version of ‘It’s A Sin‘ rather borrows from the original disco mix arrangement (a good thing) and the vocal sounds very similar. But again, it’s not different enough to justify its existence. Having listened to all these tracks a few times, I can’t see why I’d ever want to listen to them again. A better title for this bonus EP would have been Superfluous.

Nonetheless is out now, via Parlophone. The limited blu-ray with the exclusive slipcase and the 2CD edition are available via the SDE shop using this link or the buttons below. The slipcased edition is limited to 3,000 units (we’ve almost sold out).

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