The English synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys have been consistently activesince their height of fame in the 1980s. On Friday, they released their fifteenth studio album Nonetheless under their label x2 and Parlophone.

Nonetheless stays true to their style, featuring synth-driven melodies from keyboardist Chris Lowe and sturdy storytelling vocals from lead singer Neil Tennant, often reminiscent of their 1985 mega-hit “West End Girls. 

The album’s opening high-energy electro-pop dance number “Loneliness” explores questions of solitude and isolation, setting the stage for the rest of the album

“Why am I dancing,” the third song on the album, continues these themes as Tennant asks “What do I have to celebrate/ Here on my own?” Still, this COVID-19 pandemic-inspired track is a bit disjointed and hollow. The song’s overlong prologue is followed by a keyboard section that overpromises and underdelivers. The vocal performance is largely uninteresting. Lyrics such as “I can feel the tears in my eyes/ My comfort zone,” feel forced and unnatural in context.

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They come back stronger with “Dancing star,” a crowd-pleaser with fun bouncy synth lines and string arrangements that complement Tennant’s vocal performance. “A new bohemia” keeps the instrumentals but takes the album in a more melancholic direction.

“Bullet for Narcissus” features a dance beat that cleverly delivers its sharp lyrical content. Tennant grapples with questions of meaning, sacrifice and internal conflict through the perspective of a bodyguard protecting a self-centered demagogue.

He sings the line “And if my number’s up/ I’ll take a bullet for narcissus,” referring to the bodyguard’s realization that his loyalty to the titular narcissist could lead to his death. The use of storytelling creates a unique and pointed song with a clear vision. Its inpoint musical execution makes this track one of the catchiest and most meaningful on the 43-minute album.

The album has few stylistic departures. The duo capitalizes on their strengths to create a project that while repetitive, is largely cohesive. It doesn’t have lofty aims but executes what it seeks to accomplish well.

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While bravely covering topics from the pandemic to Soviet Russia, Nonetheless also provides a closer look into personal experiences from Tennant’s younger years through tracks such as “New London Boy” and “A new bohemia. 

“It’s one of the most melodic albums we’ve ever made,” Tennant said in an interview with Reuters. “It’s very warm.”

This statement rings true. The album departs from the talk-singing passages that the group once used frequently in the 1980s alongside contemporaries like Talking Heads. 

The lack of significant creative innovation does leave a few pitfalls, most notably the repetitive string arrangements and bland soundscapes prevalent on “The schlager hit parade” and “The secret of happiness.” Cutting back some of these jaded instrumentals could have benefited the overall listening experience.

Regardless, Nonetheless is unmistakably Pet Shop Boys. Driven by synth beats and bright hopeful lyrics, Nonetheless is a strong step forward for the duo synonymous with British synth-pop for over forty years. The album accomplishes an impressive feat for the tenured musical veterans.