Neil: 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.
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
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
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 too musical.
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 them gags.
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. I've 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
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?
I made my excuses and left
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?
Chris: But Neil then said he had some lyrics, so for the second time -
the first time being "You choose"
- Neil presented me with completed lyrics and I wrote music to them.
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
of her 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.
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
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
Chris: Steve Reich in the afternoon... Neil: This was nearly the first
single, but we wanted something with a bit more attitude.
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
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 for granted.
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".
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 electronic duo".
Chris: With orchestra.
Neil: We're 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
have a 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
Neil: 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
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 quickly.
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?
Casanova in Hell
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.
Chris: Schmaltzy! That's a great word.
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:
"sometimes the 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 mass slaughter.
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
Chris: Yes, it's unusual-sounding.
leave to remain
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
sort of 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...".
Chris: 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
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.
Neil: It's 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.
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 crap?"
Neil: I don't even know where the idea came from. Chris: Wasn't ID cards
one of the things on our manifesto?
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 catchy, though.
Chris: It's a great way to end the album. It's in the "Go West"