Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1996
Original album - Bilingual
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Pandemonium, Format
Other releases - bonus track with single "Single-Bilingual"

Bilingual opens with this intense song, ostensibly set in a foreign land in which the lost protagonist is asking passers-by for directions to the nearest discoteque. This scenario actually serves as an extended metaphor about one's sense of alienation and inability to communicate adequately in the modern world. Backed by a driving wall of percussion and a minor-key chord progression that augment its impact, it offers one of Neil's most profound lyrics, the first stanza of which ranks among the finest ever to come from his pen:

I don't speak the language
I can't understand a word
Where angels fear to tread
I've sometimes walked
And tried to talk
But how can I be heard
In such a world
When I am lost?
I'm doing what I do
To see me through:
I'm going out
And carrying on as normal

In short, it's the dilemma of trying to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary world, which may be even more challenging than the opposite, living an extraordinary life in an ordinary world, dealt with in one of the Pet Shop Boys' other lyrical masterworks, "Being Boring."

Neil has said that this song was inspired by a young friend of his with AIDS who was having difficulty finding understanding and a sense of belonging in the midst of this medical and emotional crisis. He summarizes his thesis as follows: "The point of the song is contained in the lines 'I'm going out and carrying on as normal.' What are you meant to do when something terrible happens to you? You carry on as normal. You go out clubbing or whatever to try and forget." Incidentally, the Spanish line "¿Entiende usted?" literally means "Do you understand?" but reportedly there's another idiomatic meaning, a "code" among gay people in various Spanish-speaking locales: "Are you gay?"

Another of the song's lines—the expressed hope "that one day we'll be free"—is given added weight in certain remixes, where it becomes a recurring refrain. This, too, surely emerged from its AIDS-related genesis. Neil and/or his narrative persona (almost certainly both) are longing for a time when we will be truly free of this horrible disease. Indeed, by the time "Discoteca" was released, the gay community in particular had been struggling with AIDS for well over a decade, and some commentators had observed that "AIDS fatigue" had set in: a form of collective psychological exhaustion over its unescapable shadow. At least to this writer's ears, "Discoteca" seems like one of the most powerful expressions of AIDS fatigue ever recorded.

Incidentally, the large number of official remixes strongly suggests that the Boys had seriously considered releasing this song as a single in its own right as opposed to a bonus track with "Single-Bilingual." It's tempting, in fact, to regard that release as a double-sided single, though that doesn't seem to be its formal designation; only "Single-Bilingual" counted on the charts.



Officially released

List cross-references