What Keeps Mankind Alive?

Writers - Brecht/Weill
First released - 1993
Original album - Alternative
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Jonathon Ruffle
Subsequent albums - Introspective 2001 reissue Further Listening 1988-1989 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "Can You Forgive Her?

This song, taken from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera—the same 1928 musical that features the much more famous "Mack the Knife"—was originally recorded in 1988 by Neil and Chris for a British radio program commemorating the musical's 60th anniversary. They didn't choose the song; rather, they were specifically asked to perform it. Richard Coles, formerly of the Communards, assisted them with the difficult chords.

Although they had some trouble with the music (at that relatively early 1988 stage of their career they weren't yet as musically adept as they would eventually become), the Pet Shop Boys' own well-documented political sympathies no doubt enabled them to appreciate the socialistic bent of Brecht's lyrics, which describe man's proverbial inhumanity to man in distinctly economic—and culinary—terms. The recording remained officially unreleased until they decided to present it as one of the bonus tracks with their 1993 single "Can You Forgive Her?"

As an interesting aside, when the Boys responded in 2001 to a fan's question about their least favorite officially released PSB recording, they specifically cited "What Keeps Mankind Alive?" as one they're "not that keen on."


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