LonelinessLoneliness

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2024
Original album - Nonetheless
Producer - James Ford
Subsequent albums - none
Other releases - single

Released digitally on January 31, 2024, with a CD single scheduled to follow in mid-February, "Loneliness" is both the opening track and the first single from the Pet Shop Boys' album Nonetheless. A moderately fast-paced track propelled by a throbbing bass-synth line and actual brass (arranged by trumpeter Ryan Jacob, though possibly augmented by synth-brass as well), Neil's lyrics ask a series of questions about "A cause close to [his] heart," namely the "struggle against loneliness":

Where you gonna run to now from loneliness?
Who you gonna turn to out of loneliness?
….
When you gonna not say no and make the answer yes?
Who is here to help you out?

The second verse features a delightful image drawn from the classic 1964 Beatles film A Hard Day's Night as it refers to "Ringo walking by the canal, downcast and alone…. A man who skims a stone," essentially making him (at least as he appears in that scene) an emblem of loneliness. (We can give Neil a pass on the fact that it's not a canal but actually the River Thames that Ringo is walking along since in the script of the film itself it's also referred to as a canal.)

Not surprisingly given that the Boys wrote it during or perhaps immediately after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, "Loneliness" was largely inspired by the quarantining and social isolation necessitated by that disease. Yet while the lyrics lend themselves to a more generalized, even somewhat philosophical and "omniscient" pondering of such matters—that is, the very fact that virtually all human beings must cope with loneliness at one time or another in their lives, and some far more than others—Neil also (as he so very often does) grants it another level of meaning. He makes it more intimately personal as he adopts a narrative persona that suggests a more dramatic "storyline" to the song. When he follows the question "Who is here to help you out?" with a clearly rhetorical "Oh tell me—can't you guess?" he becomes a specific character speaking to another particular individual, saying in so many words that he is ready to help prevent this other person from being so lonely.

On the other hand, one of my site visitors has suggested that Neil (or his narrative persona) may actually be a bit less empathetic than I've been inclined to give him credit for in this song. As this fellow fan puts it, "Neil's empathy is only going so far." As evidence, consider the lines about Ringo being lonely, saying, "You're taking time to play that part," as well as the statement "When you gonna not say no and make the answer yes?" That's perhaps being somewhat less "sympathetic" and instead more challenging, accusing the person whom Neil is addressing of "playing the part" of being lonesome. It's a matter of how you can take control of your own life and dictate your own response to it, a subject that Neil has addressed in other songs, such as "Miserablism," "Happiness Is an Option," and "You Choose." The burden for solving your problems is on your own shoulders. I believe there's a lot of merit in this way of looking at the song. Maybe it's best to consider a middle ground between the two approaches, one that's both highly empathetic yet personally challenging, like the approach of a good therapist, whose job it is to help his or her client overcome physical, emotional, and/or psychological problems.

Incidentally, I strongly suspect the photography on the single's sleeve is meant to represent the pandemic: the gloves, their hands over their faces, the "standoffish" pose. Their body language practically screams, "Don't come near us!"

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