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Neil Tennant

One half of the Pet Shop Boys speaks about their new album, their songwriting and their longevity

Neha Sharma Jun 21, 2009
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You are known for your one word album titles, how do you narrow down on one word to define an album, for instance how did you decide upon Yes?

[Laughs] Well, first we were planning to call the album Pandemonium but ended up calling it Yes. It was this exhibition I attended, where there was this art installation – a thin ladder leading up to a magnifying glass, and when you climbed up and looked through it you saw a big YES. Also the word ‘yes’ has this beautiful shiny pop quality to it.

Off this album, the track ‘Building a Wall’ has some interesting lyrics on it, in places seemingly political – “Sand in the sandwiches/Wasps in the tea/It was a free country/(Who do you think you are, Captain Britain?)”. What was this one about?

That song has more to do with Catholicism and its significance at the time. It’s about my childhood. While I was growing up in New Castle, there was a war going on at the frontier of Britain. I grew up during the Cold War. As for ‘Captain Britain,’ my first job was at Marvel Comics, that’s where the term came from, like you have Captain America see. I mean the song is just me being nostalgic.

So this album is not as political…

This album is not as political. The last album was very political. It was about the war on terror and the surveillance culture prevalent here, issues I feel strongly about. Though there is this one song on Yes, the B-Sides – ‘We’re All Criminals Now’ – which talks about us feeling like we’re being treated as criminals with the surveillance culture.

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Also your lyricism has always evoked this disdain for upper middle classes, which is very much prevalent on Yes as well…

Yes, this one’s more about people. I mean it’s really crappy when you go to a magazine stand and you see all these covers sporting pictures of the Beckhams and all. You know I grew up in a sort of bourgeois family myself. It’s just that I don’t like anything that becomes a prison which is the case here.

Johnny Marr [of the erstwhile Smiths] has played on this album. In what respects has he contributed?

Yeah, Johnny Marr has worked on ‘Beautiful.’ He played the harmonica on it… Harmonica and obviously guitars.

Chris Lowe [the other half of Pet Shop Boys] once stated that he didn’t like rock music. Are you of the same opinion? Also what music do you personally like? Any recent artists you’ve taken to?

You know, to me, a lot of rock seems complacent. I listen to more of dance music, stuff like Trentmøller and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Oh, and I like Lady Gaga [laughs]. I mean if you go to New York or New Castle or Calcutta and see a Lady Gaga singing ‘Just Dance,’ you will start dancing immediately.

You subtly reference literature on your songwriting. Who would make for one of your favourite authors in that respect?

TS Eliot, especially his work on The Waste Land. I also referenced that on a track of mine, ‘West End Girls.’

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On your documentary About the Pet Shop Boys, you said that your ‘imperial phase’ had ended in 1988; you felt that the future would be more challenging for you and your successful phase was over. Do you still feel that way sometimes? What motivates you to make albums after nearly three decades of making music?

When I said that, we were having a bad phase; the bad phase has passed. I mean we do want our records to be successful. What keeps us going is the creative energy, beautiful writing, the need to express the things we feel. Also, we just are what we are; it’s something we have always stuck by. I remember the first time we came on television in Britain, we just stood and played and people couldn’t understand. We weren’t moving or dancing, but that’s just how we are. It’s all about honesty.

What impression do you have of India?

I have a strong impression of India. I remember back in school when I was studying history I had this special subject which had to do with the Commonwealth. We studied about the British Raj then, which was very interesting. At the end of the day, India is the largest democracy in the world. You can’t ignore it!

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