New Boy

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - (none)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "I Don't Wanna"

Released in late April 2020 as the b-side of "I Don't Wanna," the fourth single from Hotspot, "New Boy" is a gentle mid-tempo ballad that traces its origins back more than thirty years, and perhaps closer to forty. Neil and Chris wrote it in the early or mid-1980s, right around the time they wrote "Rent," which was well before that song saw release on Actually. Originally titled "New Boy in Town" (and apparently at one point renamed "There's a New Boy in Town"), they had seriously considered recording it with Patsy Kensit, but nothing came those plans. It then sat in the can for decades, "mega-sloppy" as Neil once described it. But, as he revealed in a 2020 interview with Cameron Adams of the Melbourne Herald Sun, "One or two years ago I was listening to the cassette demos and I've always liked this song we wrote at the time we wrote 'Rent.' It's called 'New Boy.' I was at Smash Hits at the time. It's about two girls on the phone in some suburban area, they see a new boy in town and are talking about him. It's got a very strong melody, I've always remembered it. Anyway, Chris and I finally finished it off after however many years…." (Neil subsequently revealed that they completed it in 2018 but continued to withhold it from release a little longer.)

As finally released, "New Boy" wouldn't have sounded out of place on the first half of Alternative, or even one of their early studio albums from Please through Behaviour (but no, not Introspective). Instrumentally dominated by a forlorn recurring trumpet motif that lends the track a pervasive air of sadness, it's lyrically pretty much as Neil has long described it. As he sings, "There's a new boy down in town / Gonna turn your head around," and that's what the whole song is about: the way in which the central character—the "you" of the lyrics, which are almost totally written in the second and third persons from the perspective of an omniscient narrator—has become utterly infatuated with this mysterious and extremely attractive young man. (The lone first person references, in the first two lines of the song—"We've been through this before / I think you know the score"—strike me more as a rhetorical device than as the suggestion of another actual character. After all, this narrator seems privy to the thoughts and secretive behavior of others.)

Despite her infatuation, our central character can only dream about this new boy—or at least would dream about him if only she could sleep. She's so smitten that her nights have become restless. As Neil puts it, she "just can't simmer down."

His eyes deep-set in blue
Will they ever look at you?

The song ends with Neil's multi-tracked background vocals repeating, "Oh, you can dream." You get the distinct sense that her dreams will come to naught. After all, why else would the song sound so sad?

One especially intriguing aspect of the song occurs in the last verse, during which our female protagonist wonders whether she will get to "meet him and his mate." For the first and only time in the song, there's an interjection of "his mate" into the proceedings. Of course, in British culture, the word "mate" generally refers to a man's good friend. But that doesn't necessarily preclude that this other fellow might be more than just his good friend. Could that further account for the sadness of the song: that there's no hope whatsoever for this girl—not to mention every other girl—because the new boy in town is gay? And that possibility adds an even more trenchant undercurrent to the song's opening statement: "We've been through this before." It would appear that this girl has a history of falling for "new" but unattainable guys, be they gay or otherwise.

List cross-references