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Literally Issue 34 Interview About Yes
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Neil: When we went to Kent to begin work on the album they played us a load of Xenomania backing tracks, which didn’t include this.
Chris: This was an example of what Brian and Miranda were doing with their own project. When we heard it I thought it sounded really fresh. I liked the almost trance broken chord, done with a shuffle rhythm, which I thought sounded really unusual

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it had the uplifting element of trance without being trance. Also, when the drums kicked in it sounded really heavy. Everything was already there apart from the bit after the first chorus.

Neil:
Anyway, I was dispatched to say to Brian Higgins, “can we get that bouncy track?” which, I’ve got to be honest, I couldn’t even particularly remember.

I liked all the songs that sounded a bit like New Order, one of which I think turned out to be “The loving kind”.

Chris: I didn’t see any point in having something that sounded like it could have almost been us already.

Neil: When they got the track up again I thought, oh yeah, I can see what Chris means about this one. They’d already had a vague idea for a chant — Brian or Miranda — and I had this idea of “don’t have to be beautiful but it helps”, sol thought of [chants] “don’t have to be!”, based on the chant that they had. When we were doing “don’t have to be”, Brian was present and Chris was present, because Miranda came up with “a big bucks Hollywood star” and none of us, including Miranda, liked it, and we spent weeks trying to come up with another line. Miranda and I wrote loads of words for it. Then Miranda came up with whatI think is a brilliant melody, a very tricky melody that goes over the keyboard rifT: “boy it’s tough getting on in the world when the sun doesn’t shine and a boy needs a girl”. I wrote most of the words but it had a different tune first. She changed the tune to this and I thought it was amazingly clever, and I also thought I would never be able to learn it. Also then we got slightly becalmed in it because for a while Brian didn’t like the “too much ofeverything...” part.

And then he did like it and suddenly it was in the middle of the song. Then there was the famous discussion about whether to have a double chorus at the beginning of the song. I suggested the title, “Love etc.”; there was an email from Brian which said, “Is this a hit title?” Because the idea with “Love etc.” was specifically to write a hit song.

Chris: Yes.

Neil: Anyway, the song coalesced very rapidly into being this kind of anti-materialistic thing. It’s simply saying that the modern obsession with wealth and celebrity is not what makes people happy — what makes people happy is love. Probably in its broadest sense.

Chris: Well, that doesn’t necessarily make you happy either, does it? I thought, readers, that love was a catastrophe.

Neil: Yes, but the reason we’re obsessed with cubes is because, as in cubism, we look at the same thing from many different points of view. And this is this particular point of view.

All over the world

Neil: This was the last track to be written on the whole album. It started off as a song called “I’m not crying I’m laughing”. It had the same introduction — the “oh-way-oh-oh-way-oh” was all there — then had a different tune and lyric. It began: “I’m not crying I’m laughing / I know it sometimes sounds the same / I’m not crying I’m laughing / I think happiness is to blame...”

Chris: The verse music was the same, but with a different melody. And what wasn’t there was the chorus. It was also all a bit swingbeat. What we were trying to do was to do this rhythm from this record we’d heard in Mexico.

Neil: That’s why “I’m not crying I’m laughing” was such a strange sounding song.

Chris: I’d still like to make a record using that rhythm because it’s so complex and so not European in any way. It was played in every bar in Monterey in Mexico by different bands, and you couldn’t dance to it. The promoter took me onto the dancefloor to show me how to dance to this record and it was just impossible. It was an amazing rhythm.

Neil: Anyway, Xenomania were quite happy with this other song. In fact after “All over the world” was finished, one day when we were summoned to see Brian he was sitting there and humming “I’m not crying I’m laughing” to himself. But what happened was that after we took a month off in August, both Chris and I came back from holiday having had mixes of some of the songs with us, and we decided “I’m not crying I’m laughing” was utter rubbish. So we went into the studio with Tim from Xenomania and — influenced by the way Xenomania work — took all the lyrics off and all the vocals off.

Chris: And I thought, “Why not carry on the Tchaikovsky chord progression from the Nutcracker?” And then it really took off. I mean, that’s just a really great chord change. Actually, I don’t think it is the exact chord change — it’s my memory of what it might have been. And then the song went off into a completely different direction. But keeping the verse chords.

Neil: It was a really good session this — it all happened in about two or three hours.

Chris: It was really, really great. We just thought, “My God, this is good.” What was Brian’s famous quote about this?

Neil: “You’ve just made the album 10% better”. I already had the lyric in my notebook:

“this is a song about boys and girls / you hear it playing all over the world”. Which sounded to me sort of attractively banal.

Chris: I played the melody for that on the piano, to those lyrics, and Neil said it sounded like Shakatak. And I said, “But it won’t sound like that when you sing it.”

Neil: There are few worse criticisms from me than “it sounds like Shakatak”.

Chris: I know. So you had to sing it pretty soon afterwards.

Neil: Singing that it was suddenly amazingly great. Then I came up with the Bowie-like verse melody: “There’s something... that look in your eyes tonight...” I was suddenly channelling David Bowie. It’s a funny David Bowie because it’s David Bowie but not from one of his most successful albums. It’s kind of “Loving The Alien”-era Bowie. Chris and Tim also spent a long time working on the rhythm track.

Chris: Tim really beefed the rhythm up, made it four on the floor.

Neil: It’s a song about love songs. About how love songs are universal. Just saying that wherever you go you hear love songs. It’s celebrating that. What they’re saying, and not saying.

Chris: The lyric changed near the end. It used to say “I love you”.

Neil: I changed it because I think pop songs are more about sexual desire than love. Hence “I want you” rather than “I love you But if that bit had been in twice I would have sung “I love you” the second time.

Beautiful People

Neil: “Beautiful people” came about because Jonathan Harvey, whom we wrote Closer to heaven with, was writing a TV comedy series called BeautWul People and he sent us an email, which I received just as we were finishing doing a demo, asking whether we would consider writing a themesong for it. And so we wrote a song called “Beautiful people”. Then I emailed him back to say we’d written a song, and he said they wanted something really up, high-energy disco-y, and I said that that was so not what we’d written — that we’d written something that sounds a bit sad, a bit melancholy. I used the example of the Oasis Royle Family one. Anyway, they didn’t want it, but we loved this song, and Brian Higgins, when we first played him songs we’ve written, really liked this song a lot as well.

Chris: It was fully formed.

Neil: I always think of our demo as being a bit more folky.

Chris: It didn’t sound folky to me. The original aim was to be r’n’b. They’re quite soulful chords. The exact arrangement was already there.

Neil: I’m not even sure I re-sang it. Anyway, folk and soul do meet in the Mamas and Papas and, even at this stage, the backing vocals were supposed to be like the Mamas and the Papas. When we wrote this song I loved it to pieces. On the demo I do a guitar solo — we didn’t keep that, unfortunately. As we worked on it with Xenomania Chris was really keen on it but I wasn’t that keen because I was worried it had lost some of the sympathy. Then we got Owen Pallett’s orchestration which is amazing, and Johnny Marr played on it, and suddenly it all made sense. I’d thought the drums were too big before, but now they were perfect. Funnily enough the lyric is the same message as “Love etc.” but from a totally different perspective.

“Love etc.” is saying being rich and famous is not going to make you happy. “Beautiful people” is somebody wishing they’re rich and famous. It’s one of those songs where I imagine it’s a woman singing it. I imagine she’s standing by the bus stop in the rain in London — I actually specifically have a bus stop for this, on Green Park near the Ritz, where there’s a newsstand behind — and she looks at the newsstand, and it’s pouring with rain and she’s waiting for the bloody bus and there’s a traffic jam and she’s got her shopping — and she sees all these Hello! magazines and Heat, and she thinks “I want to live like beautiful people”. It was making sense of the title of Jonathan’s series. It’s from the same product range we occasionally do as “Decadance” — that’s got a similar kind of feel about it. She’s thinking all this, then she’s going to get the bus, go home and make dinner.

Did you see me coming?

Neil: I can’t even remember writing this.

Chris: Someone emailed into our Radio 2 show saying “are some of your songs complacent?” and I took that to mean “effortless”. This is one of those songs. It all happened in one go.

Neil: I had a ballad that I’d started writing on the piano at home called “Did you see me coming?” Chris had been working on this backing track and I tried to sing my ballad, which I could never get far with. When I sang it over Chris’s backing track, the tune changed to what it is now. I was worried the title sounded obscene. It wasn’t meant to. My mother used to say “they must have seen you coming” if you’d been overcharged for something. It came from that.

Chris: They’re bloody good chords. I had to put them into the computer for the tour the other day and it took me ages to work out what they were.

Neil: That was one of those great moments in writing songs for an album where I personally thought we’d written a single. Abit like when we wrote “Minimal” on the last album. The song is about someone walking into a bar and seeing someone and thinking, “God, I really fancy them, I could spend the rest of my life with them.” I always imagine it to be a man meeting a woman, and the woman who sees him coming is a very, very strong and controlling person. And she thinks, “yeah, he’s cute, I could sort of deal with him” — cause all of a sudden there were just two of us”. It’s as though she’s actually managed it; she’s arranged the situation, told all of her friends to go away. That’s why he’s saying “did you see me coming?” — was it that obvious that I liked you?

Chris: Another love song, isn’t it?

Neil: It’s a very positive love song. I like the harmonies in the chorus. In fact the harmonies make the chorus, I think. I didn’t do any harmonies until our third album.

Chris: Wasn’t this the one Brian Higgins said...?

Neil: . . yeah, that it was “80% there”. He always liked the bit where the Gregorian choir solo comes, because it’s rather unexpected. He said, “Oh, that’s beautiful.” We brought Johnny Marr in, put the guitar on, and they beefed up the rhythm track. But it’s one of the ones that’s most similar to the original. It’s the same vocal as the demo.

Chris: Great ad libs at the end.

Neil: I’m giving 110% on the ad libs. That’s me thinking “what would Dusty do?”

Chris: You normally get hand gestures in the studio.

Neil: I can only sing like this with the hand gestures — to get into character.

Vulnerable

Neil: “Vulnerable” again sounds very like the demo.

Chris: It’s another one that we played to Brian on our first visit — audition, I mean.

Neil: The demo was actually in a different key. We took it down because I couldn’t sing it. They just sort of beefed it up. When we wrote it I always thought it would be a single, and, when we first played it to Parlophone, Nick Gaffield, who is the global president of A&R for EMI, thought this was the single rather than “Love etc.”. He wanted it to be a duet, and there was talk of us approaching Carla Bruni, which was Dave Dorrell’s idea. I could imagine her singing it. The song itself is sung from the point of view of a woman we know. It’s great to write about someone you know well because it’s quite easy. And singing from someone else’s point of view I find quite interesting, and even liberating, to do. It’s someone whose outer shell is very strong and aggressive but who inside is really vulnerable, and really the person is singing to their partner, who doesn’t appear to be that important but really is of crucial importance to them.

Chris: We’re all a bit vulnerable really, though, aren’t we?

Neil: I think so. I think it probably really is about me.

Chris: A lot of these songs came really easily. The music was just absolutely effortless. It’s a bit of electropop — it is what it is, really.

Neil: The guitar is actually a sample played by Chris. I liked this song because I always felt it sounded very French, a bit like “Voyage Voyage” or something. I think it’s got a particularly beautiful melody. The sort of melody that we write that is just taken for granted, really. But I sometimes wonder if the whole idea of melody is old-fashioned now.

Chris: We should remember that for the next impenetrable album we’re going to make. To not have any. The aim is to make an album that no one’s going to like.

Neil: What do you hope to achieve by this?

Chris: Satisfaction. I sometimes think we are too musical. That’s why rock’n’roll was invented, as Trevor Horn once said to us.

Neil: No, he didn’t. Brian Eno said it.

Chris: Brian Eno.

Neil: We were, to be fair, arranging a Noel Coward song at the time.

Chris: Exactly! I think three chords is too many. Rock’n’roll was invented to get rid of all of this musicality, to just have something really simple that anyone can play, and that you don’t have to think about. So I don’t think you’ll be getting all this musicality from us on the next album.

More than a dream

Neil: This is the second Xenomania co-write. It was originally called “Where the wild things are”, which was a bad title, and it went through a lot of different changes. It was going to be scrapped at one point. Though Brian also had announced that it had a hit introduction. I think it probably does — if this was Girls Aloud it probably would be one. I worried that it was too not us to be on one of our albums. But at one point, just when we were on the verge of scrapping it,
Chris went upstairs and wrote the melody for “coming soon, something good”, and I loved that melody. I had to get them to dig out from all these USB sticks the bit where Chris had written this melody, and edit it onto the intro, and Brian loved that melody coming after the intro, because the intro is very chirpy. Again it’s very French. It reminds me of some French record in the Eighties like “Etienne Etienne” but I can’t quite remember what it is.
Chris had also written this other bit — where it goes “Driving through the night, you and me...” which Miranda and I had “lyriced” when the song was still “Where the wild things are”. We always used to refer to it as the Belinda Carlisle bit. I totally loved that bit and I really, really didn’t want to lose it — that’s why I wanted to carry on with the song. It’s got this kind of desperateness. Anyway, it all finally came together. Since the album came out, people keep asking us whether the “more than a dream” thing comes from Obama — I don’t even remember is the fact of the matter. There’s a whole theory that the album is called Yes because of Obama which simply isn’t the case.

Chris: It’s very much a promised land type of thing, isn’t it? The chorus.

Neil: Yeah.

Chris: So much hope on one album. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?

Neil: Sometimes I write lyrics like that because I know Chris likes these ravey optimistic things.

Chris: Yes.

Neil: But I think maybe there was an Obama thing, because this was written in May last year when the primaries were just coming to an end. Anyway, we had a final session on the song, writing it, and suddenly it all came together. When it was called “Where the wild things are” it was about going out at night. In the middle I imagined these two crazy kids driving this car through the Blackwall tunnel, going to some party. Now, a bit like the songs on Fundamental, it’s a song where the political and the personal are the same thing.
It could be talking about society or it could be talking about the relationship between two people — which is what it really is, actually. Everything doesn’t have to carry on as it is. You can change if you want to. I think for the chorus Miranda wrote the medley and I wrote the lyrics. In the verses, I had the idea of “coming soon, something good”, and then the second verse Miranda and I wrote together. So it’s a genuine collaboration. Brian got involved a lot in the structure of it.

Building a wall

Neil: “Building a wall” didn’t really change that much from the demo.

Chris: It did. It changed loads.

Neil: The structure, I mean. The rhythm track changed a lot. I don’t really get involved in rhythm tracks and all those kind of things. The person who liked this track was Brian Higgins. Even when it was finished, Chris and I suddenly had a move to scrap it.

Chris: The backing track went through a major transformation. It went through trance — the verse melody actually came from the trance melody that we then legato- ed into that — and then it went rock.

Neil: Johnny Marr played weird guitar — we told him to play like Robert Fripp on “Heroes”. It’s Stuart Price’s favourite track on the album.

Chris: And also my younger brother’s.

Neil: There’s something stirring about it which I liked. I already had the lyric for “I’m building a wall, a fine wall” and “protection, prevention, detection, detention” — I wrote that walking down the street one day and sang it into my telephone. Spoke it, actually. It was a poem. It must have been something about the Berlin Wall, I think. Because the Berlin Wall was to keep people in, not to keep people out.

Chris: That’s not what they said.

Neil: It’s a funny song. The verse wasn’t written for ages. I think I just thought I was going to look at all aspects of walls. I had actually built a wall in my garden — not personally — but had a wall built. Then there was the Berlin Wall. Where I grew up in the north of England we have the Roman Wall which we used to go to on school trips, and we used to have picnics with my family near the Roman Wall. So I put all that together, and I decided to sort of make it about the Cold War and about my childhood. I was thinking about The Man From UNCLE.. In 1964, 1965, when I was 10 or 11, I was absolutely obsessed by The Man From UNCLE..
But it’s also, at the same time, about someone building a psychological wall around themselves. Also, it’s using the Berlin Wall as the emblem of the past, and then using one’s personal past to see how one’s got to where one is, why you’re building your wall. But I’ve never really sat down and thought this lyric out. “There’s nowhere to defect to anymore” was the sort of thing people used to say when the Berlin wall came down and communism ended. Something that often occurs to me in the modem world is that there isn’t an underground anymore — you can’t opt out anymore.

Chris: My voice is on it because Neil asked me. It wasn’t my idea.

Neil: I thought “protection, prevention...” would be good with two voices.

Chris: I’m happy to oblige.

King of Rome

Neil: This started off, as it ended up, called “The King of Rome”. I had an idea of writing about the King of Rome, who was Napoleon’s son. Napoleon divorced Josephine because he had to have an heir and she couldn’t give him an heir, and he married the daughter of the Austrian emperor and they immediately had a son and when he was born he was declared to be the King of Rome, because Napoleon was the King of Italy. Five years later Napoleon was in exile and this boy was brought up in the Austrian court, and yet he was the son of Napoleon so he was a figure of some fascination to people. And he had no family, and he was lonely, and he didn’t know his father. He just seemed like an incredible symbol of loneliness and exile. It’s a very poetic name, the King of Rome, and I thought of this line one day: “If I were the King of Rome / I couldn’t be more tragic / my fate to roam so far from home / in search of my lost magic”.

Chris: I wrote the music. As I said, everything was just really easy. The juices were flowing during this entire writing period.

Neil: You wrote the music for everything, really, on this album.

Chris: Yeah, I did quite a lot. During all of this you were doing driving lessons. That’s what was happening on this album. He was having two-hour driving lessons.

Neil: There’s normally a song that I’ve basically written on the piano — like “Luna Park”, for instance — and Chris vibes up. And actually there isn’t one on this album. I was learning to drive.

Chris: Having not just one-hour lessons but two-hour lessons.

Neil: Or even three, occasionally. And then I’d come back and then we’d drive to my sister’s for lunch so I could practise driving, and then we’d come back, and then Chris and I would go for a drive, and then I’d be too shattered to do anything really after that.

Chris: Neil would fall asleep on the sofa. Or maybe even go for a swim.

Neil: Or a run.

Chris: Or a run! So actually I spent a lot of time in the studio writing music.

Neil: Luckily I was also churning out magnificent lyrics.

Chris: Actually, it worked rather well, the whole thing.

Neil: I was writing the words for “The King of Rome”, havingwritten pretty much the whole lyric, I suddenly thought it could be “The King of pop” instead. Though I didn’t like the phrase “king of pop” — “Rome” sings better. But I was just thinking what a tragic figure Michael Jackson is, endlessly roaming the world. That’s why there’s the very puzzling second verse: “Beneath the moon / a new lagoon / we glide upon the surface”.
It’s like arriving in Dubai, and they’ve built a lake in the middle of the desert — that’s what I was thinking of. Maybe the lake’s even in the middle of a shopping centre. Though actually I didn’t write that at first about Michael Jackson — it was the lagoon which suggested Michael Jackson to me. Anyway Brian Higgins wasn’t keen on it being about Michael Jackson, and when I told him what it had been originally called he said, “Yeah, we’ll go back to ‘The King of Rome’.” Actually he used to call this song “Baby come back to me”.

Chris: Or “It couldn’t be more tragic” — that was his other title for it. The music never really changed. I was expecting a bit more production on it, but Brian liked it as it was. It was just a drum loop.

Neil: I did re-sing it. The line “last night I lost a day” comes from when Chris and I flew from Chile to New Zealand and lost a day. I wrote the line down in my notebook.

Chris: Well, we nearly lost a life, didn’t we, on the flight from Chile?

Neil: Quite. The other aspect of this song is to do with Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.

Chris: Which I’m currently reading and have almost finished. It’s a page-turner.

Neil: I was thinking about exile, and on the original version I go into Rebecca at the end, speaking: “Last night I dreamt I went to Mandalay again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate.” I quite liked it, but then I thought it was a bit pretentious. Also, we’d have had huge copyright problems.
The chord change at the end — for “I think of your inscrutable pale face” — is in fact a chord change from Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss. I was reading this book which was a mild influence on the album, The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross, and every now and then he would give chord changes; he gave this one and we programmed it in. Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss has always been one of my favorite pieces of music.

Pandemonium

Neil: Unlike the rest of the album, “Pandemonium” was written the previous year, in 2007, when we were writing songs for Kylie Minogue.

Chris: It didn’t change much at all.

Neil: They just beefed it up. When we wrote it we were very pleased with, particularly the middle bit, the bit about “the party’s in full swing”. I thought we’d written a terribly professional pop song that would be suitable for the Spice Girls to record, because they were getting back together at that point. I always thought it was more Spice Girls than Kylie. I can imagine all the Spice Girls in a line doing that swaying little dance that they do. But the idea for the lyric, as I was writing it for Kylie, was about when Pete Doherty and Kate Moss were going out.
It’s sort of inspired by that, though it’s not a documentary of it. But it’s a Kate Moss type person singing about a Pete Doherty type of person who’s chaotic and you never know what’s going to happen. As it was written for Kylie, I imagined it as being sung by a woman, about this crazy guy she’s going out with. Someone unsuitable who they love nonetheless. I really like the opening line, “Is that a riot or are you just pleased to see me?”. There’s a famous Mae West line it’s based on.

Chris: I think it’s a really good drunken having-a-laugh-with-your- mates type record. It’s got that kind of Seventies glam rock feel to it.

Neil: Johnny Marr liked that about it.

Chris: Johnny plays harmonica, which we didn’t know he could play. He went to the boot of his car and whipped out his harmonica.

Neil: We got a load of people from Xenomania to do the “ooh”s and “it’s pandemonium”, including Bob Stanley from St Etienne.

Chris: The chords are just all really uplifting all the way through. And it’s got a fantastic middle bit. Sometimes a good song can be let down by a forced middle bit, and this just sounds completely natural. It’s a very euphoric happy party record. Which you have to be in the right state of mind to do. You can’t force those records. I thinkit was written after dinner. After a bottle of wine too many.

The way it used to be

Chris: This was a Xenomania backing track. I absolutely loved this the first time I heard it, and I got dispatched upstairs with it.

Neil: This was the easiest Xenomania one to write. Chris came downstairs playing this melody and I immediately sing “I’m here, you’re there... the way it used to be” or something, and the song immediately became “The way it used to be”.

Chris: I wrote all the melodies apart from “don’t give me all your Northern pain”.

Neil: No, there’s the bit where I wrote the music — the chords and everything. That’s the “I’d survive with only memories” bit.

Chris: Yes, fabulous middle bit, actually. That made it more than

10% better. Who wrote the “I was there caught on Tenth Avenue” bit?

Neil: That must be Miranda. I know I wrote the words of it, because I phoned up Chris’s sister because I wasn’t sure whether I’d imagined that a place called Culver City existed. The thing about this song was that it was going to be a duet all the way through. We were thinking of asking Tina Turner. But we didn’t. Miranda and I had the idea that it was like a film. It’s the story of a relationship — at the beginning it’s two people meeting again after a long gap, and then you have a long flashback to the start of their relationship when they’re first in love.
Miranda and I sat down and wrote the story. They’ve been on holiday to Rome and then they’ve moved to Manchester — in the second verse where it says “over the bridge an empty scene” I was thinking of the canals in Manchester — and then they move to New York, a fatal mistake, and the relationship falls apart, and one of them moves to Los Angeles. In the end, they’ve met again, and they’re getting back together.

Chris: A happy ending?

Neil: To denote that, at the end of the song I wanted to change the key, but it sounded a bit naff. It didn’t work.

Chris: Tierce de Picardie.

Neil: What does that mean?

Chris: It’s when you suddenly end on the major chord.

Legacy

Neil: Returning to the book The Rest Is Noise — which I was reading while having driving lessons and finding a small amount of time to get involved in the album — I read about a chord called a tritone which used to be, in the Middle Ages, regarded as devilish. It’s a particular combination of notes, a major triad with a flattened fifth so that it has a note that does not belong in the key, and it has an amazing quality. We did write some other stuff using dissonant chords — some of it is in the ballet.

Chris: “Gin and Jag” is one of those.

Neil: And there’s a song called “Pedal.”

Chris: That was definitely a way of thinking, to be a bit more adventurous musically.

Neil: For instance playing a minor chord on the left hand, and on the right hand taking the interval of the flattened fifth and playing a whole chord of that, so that you might play C minor and F sharp minor together as one chord, which is an amazing chord. I was also listening to Johnny Greenwood’s music for There Must Be Blood. But Chris started writing the music to “Legacy”.

Chris: This is a bit more tonal, but it was inspired by interesting chords that weren’t pop chords.

Neil: I sang “that’s it, the end...” over the chords Chris had put down, but the next bit — “a pilgrimage of grace, you won’t believe it...” — Chris wrote the melody to the lyrics.

Chris: That’s not pop, is it?

Neil: I couldn’t sing it at first. I couldn’t work out the interval. It’s when you want to bring in the classical tenor.

Chris: The fun bit of this song is the waltz. It’s such a release. Waltzes are pretty exciting, I think.

Neil: There’s a waltz in the ballet.

Chris: Waltzes are just so exuberant, particularly when you’ve come out of this. And it was great fun to record — there are timps and cymbals. When we do a waltz it’s a Viennese waltz. It was Neil’s idea.

Neil: I was thinking Roxy Music would have had a waltz. There’s a Roxy Music track (“Bitter Sweet”) on their fourth album. I just thought it was a fantastically pretentious thing to do — go into a waltz and then sing it in French.

Chris: Also, it comes out of the waltz really beautifully, effortlessly back into the main song.

Neil: It’s got an orchestral arrangement by Owen Pallett who also did “Beautiful people” and who we got in touch with after hearing his orchestral arrangements for the Last Shadow Puppets album. This lyric took a long time to develop, because it started off with me, as I sometimes do, going through my notebooks or computer, stringing together good lines and then trying to make some kind of sense of it. I mean, just singing “They’re raising an army in the north / from York Minister to the Firth of Forth” is quite exciting. But then it occurred to me that “That’s it, the end / but you’ll get over it, my friend” — which is actually very similar to “This is the end...
beautiful friend” — began with the last thing that Tony Blairsaid in the House of Commons. And so in my head I gradually started to think of it as Tony Blair — or, for that matter, George Bush - leaving office and trying to rationalise the mistakes they’ve made as not being mistakes. And then looking back to other periods of history when people have been sent into exile in effect. It was quite interesting that when Tony Blair left he didn’t just leave, he basically left the country. In the song, the person being sung about comes back to earth with a bang.

Chris: It’s the Carphone Warehouse line.

Neil: I like the contrast of the Carphone Warehouse boy phoning about your mobile and this incredibly heroic background music in the background. The point of that is suddenly returning to normal life — after Scapa Flow and raising an army and all the rest of it, all of a sudden somebody’s phoning you to ask whether you want to upgrade your mobile phone.
As I summarised in an email to the guy who does the “Pet Shop Boys Song By Song Commentary” website: “‘Legacy’ is about guilt. How time doesn’t erase it, how a mistake goes on being repeated, how a wrong may be forgiven but not forgotten, how a past tragedy still haunts. You try, but you can’t get over it. You can attempt to explain it away but controversy arrives. You always come back down to earth with a bump. The opening lines are a quote from Tony Blair.”

 

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