Rent

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Actually
Producer - Julian Mendelsohn
Subsequent albums - Discography, Concrete, PopArt
Other releases - 1987 single (UK #8)

Undoubtedly one of the most controversial songs ever written by the Boys, yet also one of their most frequently covered. Commonly viewed as a narrative by a "rent boy" (British slang for a male prostitute), Neil has directly denied this interpretation, stating that he wrote the lyrics from a female viewpoint. (Indeed, Liza Minnelli later covered this song on her Results album.) Then again, in his essay "Queen Theory: Notes on the Pet Shop Boys" (published in the 2002 critical anthology Rock Over the Edge), British scholar and critic Ian Balfour claims that an early, unreleased version contained such pointed allusions to Elton John's alleged and refuted dealings with rent boys that our heroes felt the need to rewrite the lyrics to avoid legal difficulties. (Good thing, too—Elton won his libel case against one of the tabloids that relentlessly hawked such rumors.) And in an April 2007 interview on the British TV program Hardtalk Extra, Neil conceded that he and Chris quite enjoyed being "provocative" with the title, which, as he put it, "obviously came from the phrase 'rent boy.'" So the ambiguity was consciously "built in" from the very start.

Whatever the case, the lyrics focus on the narrator's mixed feelings about being "kept" by the person with whom s/he is in love. Alternatingly mercenary and tender, the song invites the listener to share these mixed feelings, blurring the moral lines between sexual and financial arrangements. Released as the third single from Actually and a major hit in Britain and elsewhere, "Rent" wasn't even offered as a single in the U.S., probably because the Boys and/or their record company realized how misunderstood it would be.

One site visitor, incidentally, has offered an extremely novel take on the song, interpreting it from the perspective of Chris and Neil directly addressing their record-buying listeners. After all, they have good reason to love us since, at least in a manner of speaking, we do pay their rent. Personally, I don't at all think that's what this song is about—there are too many lyrical references that don't fit the scenario—but you can't deny the basic appeal of the concept.

An interesting sidenote is that the Boys had originally recorded "Rent" as a faster "HI-NRG" track but decided to scrap it for this comparatively staid rendition.

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references