The End of the World

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1990
Original album - Behaviour
Producer - Harold Faltermeyer, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

"But, you know," Neil told Rolling Stone interviewer Rob Sheffield, "it's a song about a teenage tantrum. We've all had them."

Just as the album version of "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously" had borrowed heavily from the contemporary style of Bobby Brown, now came a song that owed so much stylistically to Stock, Aitken, and Waterman that it borders on parody. But if that's the case, what a superb parody it is! The liveliest song on Behaviour, it might have made a highly successful single (Billboard magazine, in its review of the album, predicted as much, citing it as one of the album's most commercial-sounding tracks), yet was never released as such. In fact, it almost didn't make it onto the album; at first included but then removed from the provisional tracklist, the song was restored pretty much at the last minute. Neil has also noted a perhaps surprising additional influence: Depeche Mode. Playing electric guitar on this track, Neil was purposely trying to replicate the guitar sound from Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence."

Lyrically, this song is a pretty straightforward plea to listeners not to give up on life just because they've been disappointed in love. Neil, however, gets downright apocalyptic in the final verse (all that stuff about prophets and the Virgin) as he satirizes people's—especially teenagers'—tendencies to equate such disappointments with "the end of the world."

At least, that's what this song means to me. And based on Neil has said, it sounds like that's what it means to him, too. On the other hand, one of my email correspondents suggests an alternate reading: that it may be about a girl suddenly trying to cope with an unplanned pregnancy. Personally, I don't share that view, but you've got to admit that it has potential. I mean, think about it: "… it's just a boy or a girl." Another site visitor has offered a still different interpretation that makes a good deal more sense to me, and even helps to explain a few lines I had always found perplexing. Perhaps the song is addressing anxious parents who are worried about their son or daughter out late on a date or some other nighttime adventure, particularly after they'd had a serious disagreement over it in which their child had stormed angrily out of the house. Think about such lines as "Sitting down to a composition" and "Among the books and pens and reading glasses." They sound as if they're being spoken to a middle-aged college professor who's up late worrying about his daughter not having come home when expected. Even the words "Imagine total teenage destruction" seem to articulate parents' worst fears. From this perspective, the song sounds as if it's the Boys' way of saying to parents, "Calm down—there's nothing to worry about."

Once again, it goes to show how the richness of the Boys' lyrics leaves them open to multiple interpretations. It's a poor song that hinges on what an artist has revealed about its intended meaning. Fortunately, neither this nor any other PSB song does that.


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