PET SHOP BOYS 'Nonetheless'

Published on 7 May 2024 at 11:50

By Paul Laird

Author of "The Birth And Impact Of Britpop: Mis-Shapes, Scenesters And Insatiable Ones"


Forty years ago Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe flew to New York to work with producer Bobby  Orlando. Orlando had enjoyed success with the classic The Flirts track “Passion”, a song that  had an obvious influence on the early sound of the Pet Shop Boys. 


One of the tracks they took to Orlando was “West End Girls” and the original recording of that  track was released in April of 1984 and went on to become a hit in the clubs in locations from Los  Angeles and San Francisco to Belgium and France - but it wasn’t officially released in the UK  other than as a 12” import. 


When a second version of the song was recorded with producer Stephen Hague it was released in  October of 1985 and went on to become a number one hit in both the UK and the U.S.A - that  was the start of a run of 44 singles released between 1985 and 2009 of which 39 broke the top  40, and 22 entered the top ten. A remarkable period of success - made all the more remarkable  when one considers the nature of the art

ists responsible. 


No band better captures the spirit of pop music as high art as the Pet Shop Boys - they are  capable of crafting bubblegum, floor filling, dance, tunes that set toes tapping across the  generations, but are never disposable, frivolous, or worst of all, boring. 


So many of the bands who enjoy the adulation of “traditional” music fans are mundane and  repetitive at their best, and are something less, often much less, than that at their worst. There is  no art, no craft, no guile, no wit, no erudition - simply an obsession with what has gone before,  and a cult-like devotion to the guitar that makes the inhabitants of David Koresh’s Waco  compound seem rational in comparison. 


When “West End Girls” hit the top of the pops I was 12 years old, I had received my musical  education from my parent’s record collection - primarily Motown, Stax, Atlantic - I wasn’t a kid  with any definite views on pop…until “West End Girls”, it was my gateway into the world of  electronic music. From Pet Shop Boys I discovered Human League, Soft Cell, Erasure, Depeche  Mode, disco, dance music, and through their lyrics I found myself receiving an education of  another kind. 


My first PSB record was “Disco”, which I received as a Christmas gift shortly after its release in  November 1986. I think I may already have heard “In the Night” as the theme music for The  Clothes Show on BBC television - but age and the unreliability of memory may have me muddled.  It would take me many years to discover, or uncover, who, or what, a “Zazou” was - but when I  did it tickled me all sorts of pink. Just as Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick had introduced me  to a subculture I knew nothing of through their use of Polari, Tennant was doing the same thing… but instead of innuendo and playing it for laughs, he was using his elegant use of language, and  lyrical sophistication. 


I could go on. 

You get the general idea. 

I’ve cavorted around with the Pet Shop Boys from the beginning. 


Now here we are too many decades later and they are back with their 15th studio album,  “Nonetheless”, and despite the fact that everything has changed since 1985 - nothing has  changed in the world of PSB. 


Everything here is immaculate. 

Every beat. 

Every word. 

Every melody. 


There are moments of awesome wonder and incredible beauty - sometimes arriving at the same time. Take the opening moments of “New London Boy” when Tennant delivers a spoken word  introduction: “I remember wondering…” before he sings “Who am I” with the sort of purity  normally reserved for a doe eyed choirboy. You can laugh, but like Jesus, I wept. A nostalgic tale  of seeking attention and freedom, this is Tennant looking back at himself…the ability to remember,  to swim in nostalgia, while still sounding like the future of music, is what marks the Pet Shop Boys  out as something bigger, and better, than most other artists. 


Reviewing this album for a once august journal, Damien Morris posited the theory that there are  three types of PSB album; life changing, great, and OK. Almost any band who enjoys any sort of  cultural impact/breakthrough is capable of a “great” album - and they all deliver albums that are  “OK”, but few of them release albums that are genuinely life changing. I don’t know Morris, so I  don’t know how old he is…but I am now on the other side of half a century, there are few things,  other than tragedies, that will change my life at this point. 

Morris declared “Nonetheless” great… 


Playing “Nonetheless” in the car with my daughter sitting beside, me she asked who we were  listening to, then she asked to know a bit more about them, unusually for her she didn’t request  her Queen playlist (fuck knows where her interest in Freddie and co came from) and when we got  home I showed her a little bit of the Reel Stories show with Chris and Neil - specifically Neil in the  offices of Smash Hits before fame arrived, and then the footage from their first ever live tour - at  which point she asked if we could go and see them if they ever came close to us. Five minutes  later we had tickets for the Dreamworld show in Glasgow this June. 


Life changing? 


My life was changed by “Disco”, and forty years later the Boys are still changing lives. With nods  to former glories, with their hearts still in the clubs, with their souls still pulsing to the disco beat,  Pet Shop Boys have managed to do what so few other artists achieve - to be true to themselves,  to create their own space, to be unique, and to do it all with style and grace.


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