started with something Chris wrote. Chris: I'd just set up
a little keyboard in my flat, and just to see if it was
working, I programmed some drums, programmed a bass and a
top line... and then I thought it was quite good, so I
took it into the studio to work on it. It was just a
groove, really. Then Neil added a middle bit.
That was much later. I had the title "Psychological"
written in my phone. I'd been reading this book about
Oscar Wilde and I read - I was quite fascinated by this
when I read it - that when the word "psychological" first
started to be used, people used to use it to mean "gay".
Homosexual. They'd say, "Oh, he's rather psychological?
Chris: Like the word "earnest".
Neil: When Chris
played me what he'd written, I sang this psychological
thing, and then I had this idea of just having a list of
creepy images. It didn't
take that long to write. In
the studio I've got a book by a writer from the thirties
and forties, Walter Benjamin, which Dave Rimmer gave me,
and "an undertaker with a bowler hat" came from that. It
was one of the first songs we wrote for the album and we
liked it, this very strange, minimal, funky groove. And
then I thought that, as a pop song, it should sort of
explain what it was about - I've realised that the middle
sections of our songs either explain the song or give an
opposite point of view. We had it in our manifesto for
this album that we were going to write songs about what
was going on in the world today, and the middle section is
about the culture of fear, saying it's funny that people
like to be scared by horror films,
and do they
like to be scared by threats of terrorism or bird flu or
dirty bombs? And is there anything there to be frightened
of? "Is it your imagination?" That's the point of the
middle bit. Then the song goes into a bit that reminds me
of "Vogue" by Madonna, this dancey widescreen bit. I think
the message of the
song, and the beginning of the
album, is: fear is in the mind, as much if not more than
in the external world.
The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
Neil: This was a title I also already had. We went to
Naples at the end of February, 2005, and we had a
programmer called Luca Baldini, who's an Italian dance
producer and DJ who lives in Berlin, and we decided we
were going to do an update of the Patrick Cowley sound.
Chris: Is that right? We wrote it in Naples but I
thought we did the Patrick Cowley bit in London, because
we got Patrick Cowley's record in and worked out the
scale. We spent ages to work that out.
Neil: I thought
we did that in Naples. Anyway, the demo was terribly rough
- all three songs we did in Naples were very, very rough.
Chris: It wasn't four-on-the-floor when we wrote it.
Neil: We were having a very frustrating time and then we
suddenly came up with a really good chord change. The
studio was owned by these Italian guys called Planet Funk
and they said, "Hey! Great chord change! Great tune!" We
weren't sure about it, so it was quite encouraging. It
could have had an "It's a sin" sort of feel, but when we
were working on it with Trevor Horn we wanted to get away
from that. We spent ages working on it - this and "Luna
Park" are the tracks we spent the most time on. We gave
Trevor a copy of the remix of The Killers' "Mr
Brightside", the Thin White Duke mix by Stuart Price,
because that's sort of four-on-the-floor but rocky, and he
took that on board. Trevor changed the chords in the first
two verses, and then it goes back to the original chord
change. Chris: There were too many chords.
Neil: It was
Chris: It was chord overload. He
simplified it. Neil: And we got Anne Dudley to do strings
on it, and she arranged that brass at the beginning.
Chris: Neil said that he wanted a classic Trevor Horn
moment in it.
Neil: Trevor said, "Oh, you mean you want
a gag?" I said, "Yes, I want a gag".
Chris: He calls
Neil: I said, "I want a gag on every
track:' Chris: That's that "sun sex sin..." bit. Neil: We
wanted a boys' church choir singing it, and Trevor had a
school that was going to do it, and then they saw the
lyrics. I said, "There's nothing
wrong with the lyrics
- it comes out of The Bible!" Anyway, they didn't do it so
we got singers in to do it. And I put that breathy vocal
part on as well... Chris: Dollar.
Neil: Yes, because I
wanted it to sound like Dollar. I was trying to do the
greatest hits of Trevor Horn. And the speaking - that was
a gag too.
Chris: We tried to visualise where the
song existed. Neil: So it starts in the desert - you hear
the wind in the desert - and you're approaching the
club... Chris: ... and the door opens and you hear a blast
of the band playing inside the club.
Neil: And then we
got this guy, Fred Applegate, who was in The Producers. He
was a really nice guy. He came in and we got him to say a
few things and then Trevor edited that together. So we got
a great intro out of it. And the piece of music at the
start, the brass thing, was from a tape someone gave me
which I made with some friends in 1979 and it had me
playing a sort of honky-tonk thing on the piano. It took a
long time, this track.
Chris: It's quite an epic track.
Neil: I had the title first and I wasn't sure what it
meant, but I knew it was something about the modern world.
I got the bit from the Bible from the Internet - I googled
"Sodom and Gomorrah" - and so there are references to the
Bible. "Took it with a pinch of salt" is a reference to
Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt escaping
from Sodom. And "I never dared to venture out to cities of
the plain" - Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of the plain,
and I'm sure you don't need telling that "Cities Of The
Plain" was of course the name of two volumes in A La
Recherche Du Temps Perdu by Proust. I quite like that
there's a pretentious reference in line four.
read half of the first book of A La Recherche Du Temps
Perdu - it was boring. Anyway, when we brought the song
back to London, I kept thinking: what does this song mean?
I couldn't work out what it meant. And then I realised
that The Sodom and Gomorrah show was the world as it is on
the television, with everything exaggerated. Sexed up.
Only the bad bits. The ways news is presented as a kind of
exciting show. I came to the middle - "there was a place
down below lit was there I realised / the meaning of the
show" - and I thought, "That's a really good line". But I
couldn't think what the meaning of the show was. It took
me months to work that out. And then I realised the
meaning of the show was obviously love. "You've got to
love to learn to live where angels fear to tread" - I
think that's quite a good line. In the song, the narrator
is the same person as
in "I wouldn't normally do this
kind of thing", the reserved, quiet person who doesn't
really live in the world and thinks that falling in love
is something other people do.
In this song he
started participating in the world. He realises that the
only way the world won't be destroyed - and we live in a
world that is presented as endlessly on the brink of
destruction through, truthfully or not truthfully, a dirty
bomb or climate change or Asian bird flu or secondary
smoking; any Daily Mail cover any day of the week - is
through love because only through love will we respect
each other, and live together, and not destroy the world.
It's not enough to avoid the world, you've got to
participate in it. And by participating in it you will
find the love that will enable you to survive or live some
kind of fulfilling life. Trevor Horn said he thought it
was about a guy going out to New York clubs and coming
out. And in a way it is also about a guy who never goes
clubbing. And someone else said to me last week that it
was about a guy who survives the Aids crisis. Who knows?
It can be whatever you want it to be. Bob Dylan doesn't
have to explain his lyrics like this, does he?
made my excuses and left
Chris: We'd been to see A
Minute Too Late by Simon McBurney - I keep thinking it was
the opening night of The History Boys but apparently I'm
wrong - and I left the party afterwards and decided to
walk home. It was raining slightly and I just started
singing, "I'm all alone again, I'm all alone". I don't
know why. It just kept going round and round in my head.
And I remembered that my phone had a record capability so
I sang that into it. I was just off the Strand. And then
we Bluetoothed it to the computer the next day and did an
arrangement around it. At the time I thought it would just
be a funny little interlude between two songs.
Neil: We were thinking about the album having like links -
they call them skits in rap records, don't they?
But Neil then said he had some lyrics, so for the second
time - the first time being "You choose"
presented me with completed lyrics and I wrote music to
Neil: I think I was finishing the lyrics in the
studio in London. They were sort of inspired by reading,
in the first autobiography by John Lennon's first wife,
Cynthia, called A Twist Of Lennon, the story
coming back from holiday in Greece and coming into their
house in Surrey and she opens the living room door, and
Yoko and John are sitting on the sofa. She says, "Do you
want to come out for dinner?" and John just looks at her
and says, "No:' And she walks out of the house and she
realises her marriage has broken up. When I read her
account of this in her latest autobiography I was quite
impressed by how accurate the song is to her retelling of
it - I only read it recently after we finished the album.
But I always remembered that story - it seemed so sad. The
song is not totally meant to be Cynthia Lennon but it
takes that, and then at the end of the song it goes back
into the original melody and goes up to a coda where the
woman is looking back and thinking that what she thought
was just the end of her life was the beginning of a new
life. Another perennial Pet Shop Boys theme. Another
strong woman strides through our album.
Neil: The idea for "Minimal" came when we went to holiday
in Ibiza the year before last, the day after Battleship
Potemkin in Trafalgar Square. Chris had some Italian
friends there and they liked minimal house music, and they
kept saying "minimal" in this Italian accent. I put
"minimal" in my phone as the title of a song, and then
when we started writing songs in our studio last year
Chris was playing something and I just thought "in-i-
n-i-m-a-l... minimal". Chris phoned up an Italian friend
and said, "
After four, say 'minimal' - so we could
record it - and he went "uno, due, tre, quattro which was
so perfect so we used that as well. He was in some coffee
bar and finally he said "minimal" in this slightly annoyed
voice - I think he thought Chris was taking the piss out
of him -and he had a girl with him and she said "minimal"
too, so we used both voices in the chorus. The words of
the song are simply about minimalism. There is nothing
more going on. I think the middle bit's really lovely: "an
empty box, an open space, a single thought leaves a
trace". It makes me think of Grapefruit by Yoko Ono.
There's something very beautiful about a plain white piece
of paper with one word written on it: "yes". When we
played Trevor and his wife the demos, he liked this
immediately, but then, being Trevor, he made it rather
maximal at the end. There's a sort of discord at one point
which is really great, and there are
marimbas right at
the end - the first time marimbas have appeared on a Pet
Shop Boys record. There's the minimalist composer Steve
Reich who often uses marimbas.
Chris: Steve Reich in
the afternoon... Neil: This was nearly the first single,
but we wanted something with a bit more attitude.
Neil: It seems quite nice that "Minimal" is
followed by "Numb", one of the biggest orchestral-sounding
tracks we've ever done. We originally recorded it in 2003
for PopArt. It was Chris's suggestion that we got Diane
Warren to write a song for us because we had to write a
hit. She gave us three songs - one of the others was
called "Kisses On The Wind" which keeps getting mentioned
in interviews. She sent me a text message about it saying,
"'Kisses On The Wind' still hasn't been recorded... and
yes, my best friend is a parrot."' We liked "Numb", which
she was honest enough to tell us had been turned down by
Aerosmith because they were doing a blues album. We
decided to keep it for this album, and I think it really
works here. If there's a theme of the album being a
reaction to the contemporary world, in "Numb" the person
singing it wants to turn off the TV.
And it's true
- sometimes you see events unfolding on the news and you
don't know what to think and you just wish they weren't
there really. It was all finished in 2003 but we did a
slight remix last year at the same time as I changed one
line. Diane Warren is American, and I'm singing "I wanna
be numb" which is quite surprising - I did try singing "I
want to be numb" but it just sounded stupid. But I did
change "don't want to hear the news, what's going
down...". "Going down... is so American, so I changed it
to "...what's going on".
had the idea that we should have the introduction to the
album, and he wrote the chord change. On auto tune, which
is a programme on which you can tune voices or change the
sound of them, I've always been interested by the fact
that they've got different scales, so rather than just the
normal western scale they've got ones with quarter tones.
They've got an Arabic one, and I've always wanted to put
my voice through it, so I was doing
my version of the
kind of call to prayer you hear when you're in Muslim
countries, and I sang about ten tracks of that. It ended
up reminding me a bit of David Bowie on Low or something
like that. Then we put them all through this programme. I
don't know if it does sound Arabic in the end but that was
the idea. I called it "God willing" because that's the
translation of "Inshallah" which is what a Muslim will say
- "I'm going to the shops, God willing, Inshallah". I
quite like that it suggests that you don't take anything
We spent a long time working on this
track - originally it was twice as long. We put it at the
beginning, but it didn't work there. Now, on the vinyl
version of the album, it's the start of side two, and I
think it has that effect on the CD as well. After the
incredible down-ness at the end of "Numb" it kick-starts
the whole thing, and then it cross-fades into "Luna Park".
Neil: This was originally written in 2003
when Chris and I were writing songs for PopArt. We wrote a
lot of songs at the time - "Casanova in Hell" is on the
album, but there's also a song called "Baby" which we gave
to Alcazar. Unfortunately they broke up before they
recorded it, which was a shame. There's another called
"Blue on blue". The idea for the lyric of "Luna Park" came
from being on holiday in Nice and seeing the Luna Park
funfair. There's also one in Moscow, and I think in the
film The Third Man the funfair is a Luna Park. I've always
liked the phrase "luna park". The demo was half this
Chris: For a while it became a big rock
track. Neil: It was the point in making the album where we
said to Trevor, "We must remember: the Pet Shop Boys is an
Chris: With orchestra.
going to release that mix at some point, the one where I
said, "I don't know why we don't get Axl Rose in to sing
this' because it's just big, like "November Rain" by Guns
'N' Roses. Chris: There was a big vocal thing at the end,
like Dark Side Of The Moon.
Neil: This backing singer
called Lucinda vibed out. Chris: This is the song Trevor
thinks sounds like Pink Floyd anyway, doesn't he?
Neil: Yeah - I've genuinely never listened to much Pink
Floyd of their main success period. It's quite rock
because it's based around percussive piano. A lot of it
was written by me on the piano but it didn't
chorus and Chris wrote the chorus. Chris: The reason it
sounds like a fairground ride is because I thought it
could sound like "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds".
I went for a run and when I came back Chris had done the
whole arrangement of it. It's sort of psychedelic. Trevor
loved that. I think the song's about America. Luna Park is
America. A lot of the words were inspired by the Michael
Moore film Bowling For Columbine - originally I had a line
about killer bees in it. Like "Psychological", it's the
fact that people find being scared exciting. Also, as
ever, I'm also fascinated by lives lived at night. Luna
Park's a night thing; it's still open during the day but
what interests me is the fact that during the day it's
still technically night there - it's still all about ghost
trains and lights and the thrill of night, even during the
day. That's why "it's always dark in Luna Park".
I'm with Stupid
Neil: This was the first song we wrote
when we started writing songs in our studio last year. The
song title came from the t-shirt. Chris wrote the music. I
thought it sounded like Michael Jackson -"Smooth
Criminal", maybe, or "Bad". It was all written quite
Neil: I thought, "I'm with
Stupid... oh, Blair and Bush". It's sort of a satire:
Blair thinking Bush is the stupid one. The pivotal moment
in the song is where it says, "Is stupid really stupid, or
a different kind of smart?" I love that the website
Popjustice now says "Popjustice - a different kind of
smart". The song's funny, but it does have an element of
seriousness about it. I think it's a much better political
song than George Michael's one, "Shoot The Dog". It's
amazing when you think about it, and look at the political
times we've been through in the last ten years - has
anyone written a good political song?
Neil: Also written in 2003. It's about Casanova.
Chris: In Hell.
Neil: The idea of Casanova in Hell is
Casanova not being able to have sex - that's his idea of
Hell. I read a couple of books about Casanova that
inspired it. It's one of those things where you're
proud to put something that's not normally in a pop song,
i.e. the word "erection". The word "masturbate" was in
originally but I took it out because I thought it was too
much. It was Picasso's idea of "hell is having to
masturbate" - it said "his aging fate to masturbate,
Casanova in Hell". But when we were recording, it was
during the Michael Jackson trial period and there was so
much talk about masturbating it put me right off. I
thought it was a bit creepy. But it's one of my favourite
tracks on the record.
Chris: It has a big Las Vegas
ending. Neil: Chris wrote the music in my house in the
North on the piano. I changed the melody though because
the melody was actually slightly more schmaltzy.
Schmaltzy! That's a great word.
Neil: The last track written for the album. The demo was
programmed by Chris rather than by Pete Gleadall. I'd had
the idea for the lyric for ages:
solution is worse than the problem". I was thinking of
communism - that as a solution to the problems of the
world, the problems weren't as bad as the solutions. It's
attacking that very Twentieth Century idea that one big
idea can solve everything. I think thehistory of the
Twentieth Century proves conclusively that one big idea is
not going to solve everything, that human activity is too
complicated and detailed for one thing to solve
everything, and applying that kind of idea simply leads to
Chris: The end's very good.
Neil: I love the electro groove it's got. This is the
track where we went back to the minimal electro vibe that
was the idea right at the beginning. It's not actually
that different from the demo, apart from the fact that we
put the acoustic guitar middle bit in. I notice a lot of
people think it's the weakest track on the album, and I
totally disagree with them. Chris: I think it's the
weakest track on the album. Neil: I think it's very
Chris: Yes, it's unusual-sounding.
Indefinite leave to remain
Neil: The other song on the
album that we wrote
in Naples. I was reading a book
about Bach meeting Frederick the Great, the Prussian king
who was a hero of the Enlightenment. He was a
philosopher king. And in one chapter it mentioned a Bach
chord change so I read it out to Chris who played it, then
he changed it slightly. That's why it's got a slightly
hymnal chord change. I'd had the title "Indefinite leave
to remain" because a Sri Lankan friend of ours~ his
passport had been at the Home Office for years, and he
finally got it back stamped "indefinite leave to remain"~
which was a great moment for him because his status in the
country had been rather precarious. I thought it was a
rather beautiful phrase~ and one of our ideas for the
album was to write the songs based on contemporary events
and there has been all this debate about asylum. So I
thought of writing a love song where the language of it is
almost like someone applying for residency to stay in the
country; a boy or whatever wants his girl to live with him
and is saying she's like a country. I like it - it's a
passionate idea delivered in a very dispassionate way.
Chris: Interestingly, the time signature doubles up in
the middle bit, which you get twice. Neil: It originally
had words as well, that bit. Chris: It worked much better
without words. We almost took out the whole part and then
I thought, "actually, you could just keep the music and
not have the words".
Neil: It was something like
"Visas, and passports, may keep us, apart...".
It was very Broadway musical. Sometimes it's nice to have
a bit of space. Neil: It's nice, because I like the fact
that it starts off with the brass band and then it goes
incredibly synth. It reminds me a bit of that American
group The Postal Service. We suggested the brass band.
Chris: To me, it sets it in a northern town like
Bradford or somewhere like that, where you've got brass
bands but you've also a large Asian population, so you've
got that contrast between the two cultures.
a classic Pet Shop Boys bit of a
tearjerker. It's very
sincere. We always thought the song would be near the end
of the album if not the last track.
Neil: We started writing it in our studio in London but
Chris didn't like it.
Chris: I kept going "Is it crap?
Is it crap?"
Neil: If Chris thinks it's crap, it
normally means it's really catchy, by the way, readers. I
said, "No, it's great:'
Chris: I was, "Is it total
Neil: I don't even know where the idea came
from. Chris: Wasn't ID cards one of the things on our
Neil: Yes, it was. Authoritarianism. I'd
already had the idea of "if you've done nothing wrong,
you've got nothing to fear". Because that's what they keep
saying, isn't it? It sounded like a song from a show, and
I thought it was great that we'd got a four-on-the-floor
stomper which we haven't done a lot of recently. It's
always quite nice to have. Trevor liked it as well.
Chris: I played it to a friend and that helped me change
my mind. And then lots of other people said how much they
liked it. I'm very easily swayed. Sometimes, when
something comes easily, you tend to not value it. The
three bits to the song just came really easily.
Neil: The idea is that it's sung from the point of view of
the authoritarian New Labour-style government. "If you've
done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to fear" is always
used as a justification for ID cards. What we object to
about ID cards is that they're intelligent cards with a
data strip that can link to a central database containing
personal information which may be shared with America;
when you say you don't want that, they always say that if
you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to hide. But
I think we all have a right to privacy. I feel it's a move
that suggests we have to justify ourselves to the state
before the state will trust us, and I think it's for us to
trust the state and not the other way round. I think the
government has to win our trust, not us win their trust.
We put the lyrics on the website earlier this year when
there was a fuss brewing about ID cards, and Chris had
phoned me up to say that some junior minister had used the
word "integral" in defending it. There was a big article
in the Evening Standard about the song. But the song has
got a wicked kind of humour as well. It's meant to be'
someone giving a speech really, madly justifying all of
this, with a lot of energy behind.
Chris: It's quite
authoritarian, the music. Neil: Yes, it's quite Stalinist,
I think, and the music really reflects that. It's really
Chris: It's a great way to end the
album. It's in the "Go West" spot.