Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Actually
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - Pandemonium
King's Cross is the busiest railway/subway station in London, if not in all of Britain. Back in the 1980s it was recognized as a common "gay pickup" spot as well as a notorious hangout of prostitutes, with many of the nearby hotels offering rooms "by the hour," although apparently the area has been "cleaned up" considerably in recent years. Whatever the case, the album cut that takes its name from this station has proved a favorite among PSB fans, perhaps acknowledged by Chris and Neil in that they have performed it live on many occasions.
A rather ominous-sounding track, it took on an even greater sense of forebodingin the most literal sense of that wordin late 1987 when King's Cross became the site of an underground fire in which 31 people died. Neil sang about seeing "dead and wounded on either side, you know it's only a matter of time," leading some fans to believe that the song was written in response to this disaster. Yet the Actually album, including this song, was released before this terrible event. To add to the general eerieness of it all, the scene during which this song plays in the Boys' film It Couldn't Happen Here features a man dressed in a suit, carrying a briefcaseand on fire.
Setting aside the possibility that our musical heroes may be clairvoyant, just what is this song about? The opening image of a man who feels "the smack of firm government" waiting in a long line suggests general social decay and dissatisfaction. The lyrics seem to offer social commentary on the conditions in and around this crowded railway stationalthough Neil tosses in a more personal observation when he notes, almost in passing, that he (that is, his persona) "went looking out today for the one who got away." It has been suggested elsewhere that these images and feelings may be based on those that Neil himself observed and felt when he left home and moved to London as a very young man. Taken altogether, perhaps King's Cross serves as a "double metaphor" for sociopolitical conditions in Britain at the time as well as for the confusion and disorder in the narrator's own troubled mind.
One of my site visitors has suggested that AIDS may also play a role in this narrative, which could explain the air of narrative guilt that seems to permeate it. Is the narrator expressing "survivor guilt" because he has had "good luck waiting in a line," whereas others no less deserving have had "bad luck"? Neil has said elsewhere that much of the pessimism of their songs from this period comes from the fact that friends of theirs had died or were dying of AIDS. Such an interpretation offers another intriguing angle from which to view this rich, powerful song.
- King's Cross is a major London transportation hub, the site not only of one of London's busiest and best-known subway stations but also of a railway station that connects to Paris and Brussles via the Channel Tunnel (aka the "Chunnel"). The name also applies to the surrounding neighborhood, which when Actually was released was one of the most run-down sections of London. More recently, however, it has undergone significant economic regeneration (largely on account of those very transportation connections). "King's Cross" as a name for the area dates back to the mid-1800s, coming from the fact that a monument to King George IV, including his statue, was built there at a crossing of the River Fleet. Although the monument and statue were demolished a scant decade later, the name stuck. It has also gained international fame via J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, in which the King's Cross subway station is where wizarding students catch the train to Hogwarts.
- "The man at the back of the queue was sent…" – Although the word "queue" is by no means totally unknown in America, it's not nearly as familiar there as in Britain, where it commonly serves as both a noun referring to a line of people and as a verb for the process of forming or standing in a line. In the U.S., most people would instead say "line" for the noun or some declension of the infinitive "to line up" for the verb.
- "Lingered by the fly poster for a fight" – "Fly poster" is another primarily English term that sounds strange to American ears. Most people in the U.S. would instead simply say "flyer" (if it's a fairly small posting) or "poster" (if it's a large posting) without ever putting the two words together.
- Album version (5:11)
- Mixer: Stuart Price
- Pandemonium CD live version (4:11)
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