Closer to HeavenCloser to Heaven

Released - 2001
Chart peak - UK #107

The Pet Shop Boys' stage musical, created in collaboration with playwright Jonathan Harvey (perhaps best known for the play and film Beautiful Thing), was more than five years in the making. Neil (a major fan of the musical theater) and Chris had long harbored the desire to write a musical, and the opportunity posed itself when in 1994 they were approached by the BBC to develop one for television. In the process they were introduced to Harvey as a potential collaborator. Nothing came of the TV musical, but the idea of collaborating with Harvey stuck. Mutual commitments (albums and tours for PSB; plays and TV scripts for Harvey) delayed the start of actual work on their musical until 1997.

Neil and Chris first considered basing their musical on the Graham Greene novel Brighton Rock, but they couldn't obtain the rights because someone else had already done so. Jonathan Harvey, however, suggested an original plot—a bisexual love triangle set in a nightclub—as well as the working title, Nightlife. Soon that title was abandoned (though of course the Boys took it for their 1999 album), with the trio eventually settling on Closer to Heaven. Several prospective songs for the musical, including its title song, made their debut on the Nightlife album, while others surfaced in concerts and/or demos that circulated on the Internet.

At any rate, Closer to Heaven formally premiered (after a brief preliminary trial run) at London's Arts Theatre on May 15, 2001. It received very mixed reviews, ranging from glowing praise to scathing invective, but even the harshest critics tended to view the music favorably, often citing it as the best aspect of the show. Despite the criticism, however, the box office did fairly well, sufficient to sustain a five-month run (which, for the record, isn't bad at all). The show closed on October 13, 2001, with the producers assuring the public that it will be staged again. So far there have been four subsequent productions that I'm aware of: the first in Brisbane, Australia, in June 2005; then in Brighton, U.K. in September 2009; its U.S. debut in October 2010 in Dallas, Texas; and the London revival that ran at the Union Theatre April 22–May 23, 2015.

The original cast album was released in October 2001, mere days before the show closed in London. It has never been released in the United States, so if you're a U.S. fan, your only option is to get it as an import.

Note: Special thanks to Steve Byhurst of the Closer to Heaven Club for providing me with additional information about the plot of Closer to Heaven and how various songs fit into the storyline. Steve, whose club is dedicated to keeping Closer to Heaven alive, welcomes emails from anyone interested in joining his club.

Plot Synopsis

The show kicks off with a rousing introduction ("My Night") to its London nightclub setting and main characters. Prominent among them is Billie Trix (portrayed by Frances Barber), a fading rock star of the sixties and seventies who now serves the dual function of main attraction and mother figure for the club's habitués. The club's owner is Vic Christian (David Burt), a middle-aged gay father with a grown daughter, Shell (Stacey Roca).

And then there's the central character of the story, "Straight Dave" (Paul Keating), a young man just off the boat from Ireland who's determined to make something of himself ("Something Special"). Vic decides to hire Dave as a bartender. Shell and Dave soon meet and enjoy an immediate mutual attraction ("Closer to Heaven," in the first of several renditions of the show's title song).

Later Vic and Shell have a frank father-daughter talk ("In Denial") in which each tries to face his/her ambivalence and fear about their relationship and lives. Enter Bob Saunders (Paul Broughton), a decadent musical Svengali ("Call Me Old-Fashioned") and acquaintance of Billie, who finds Dave appealing enough—in more ways than one—to want to sign him on for his most recent boy-band enterprise. Meanwhile, Dave's romance with Shell grows ("Nine Out of Ten").

In the midst of several numbers that accentuate the hedonistic (and ultimately self-destructive) atmosphere in which these characters live, work, and play ("It's Just My Little Tribute to Caligula, Darling," "Hedonism," and "Shameless"), Billie lets her carefree façade down long enough to reveal her own insecurities, both alone ("Friendly Fire") and together with Vic ("Vampires"), whose use of alcohol and drugs is getting out of control, causing a breakdown in his relationship with his daughter. As for Dave, he now finds himself falling in love with a handsome young drug dealer, Mile End Lee (Tom Walker), who responds hesitantly but positively ("Closer to Heaven"). Needless to say, when Shell finds out she's rather upset ("Out of My System"). And she's not the only one out of sorts. Lee is also worried since Vic caught him dealing at the club and confiscated his drugs. He won't be able to pay his supplier, so now he's in serious jeopardy.

Events take a tragic turn as Lee mistakenly comes to believe that Dave doesn't love him after all, leading to his (Lee's) death of a ketamine overdose ("K-Hole"). Dave, of course, is devastated ("For All of Us" and "Closer to Heaven"), but he gathers his strength and is determined to press on ("Positive Role Model"), having grown wiser (including accepting his gayness) as a result of this experience.

Top Picks by Voter Ratings

  1. My Night
  2. Call Me Old-Fashioned
  3. For All of Us

Wayne's Top Picks

  1. Out of My System
  2. My Night
  3. Friendly Fire

My Night
 by Frances Barber (in the role of Billie Trix) and the cast

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The proceedings begin with a repeated ascending eight-tone scale—"musical shorthand," if you will, for the thoroughly uplifting song now underway. But this is no ordinary musical scale; neither major nor minor, it's a very unusual modal scale (B-C sharp-D-E-F-G-A-B). Not to get too technical about it, but I think one (though probably not Neil or Chris) could call it a "B Locrian modal scale with an augmented second." At any rate, it suggests a very unusual evening ahead—one with a decidedly dark undercurrent. "My Night"—at least in its cast album version—is sung primarily by the character of Billie Trix, and it's a good ol' musical theater stomper, the kind of classic uptempo opening number that assures the audience that they're going to have a good time. It also serves to introduce the nightclub setting, where "nothing is taboo."

The album version is less than four minutes long and features only Billie as a soloist, but the "live" rendition—as well as the original unedited version, which at one time was available for download at the official PSB website—runs for nearly nine minutes and introduces most of main characters in succession: Billie, Straight Dave, Shell, Vic, and Mile-End Lee (as well as the comparatively minor character of Flynn, Bob Saunders's assistant, who doesn't get any lead vocals on the actual album), each singing a variation on the chorus. Either way, it's an extremely strong opening that has already emerged as a fan favorite.

By the way, near the end Billie sings/shouts what is surely one of the strangest lines ever to appear in a PSB song: "I can see a seahorse!" And she's not even in the water!

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

Official but unreleased

List cross-references


Something Special
  by Paul Keating (in the role of Straight Dave)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

New to London, "Straight Dave" gives the audience a glimpse into his background, personality and, most importantly, aspirations. In short, this young man (or, as he himself puts it, "another boy becoming man") wants to be "something special." A little street-savvy—but not terribly so—he has relatively few illusions about life. Unafraid to take risks, he lets us know right up front that he's willing to do whatever it takes to transcend his "hand-to-mouth existence." Paul Keating makes the most of the soaring melody of this midtempo song that borders dangerously close to musical-theater cliché. But the overall strength of his performance, as well as the excellence of the song itself, provides Closer to Heaven with its second highlight in a row. So far the Boys are batting a thousand.

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demos with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


Closer to Heaven
  by Stacey Roca (in the role of Shell Christian) and Paul Keating

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999 (PSB); 2001 (cast)
Original album - Nightlife (PSB); Closer to Heaven (cast)
Producer (cast album version) - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

"Closer to Heaven" serves not only as the title song but also as a recurring theme that allows various characters to convey their hopes and dreams, primarily in the realm of love, as they describe events as bringing them "closer to heaven" than ever before. In essence, it has become the musical's "love theme." It appears four times on stage, but only three times on the album. In its first appearance it's a duet between Shell and Dave as they express their initial interest in each other. It's fascinating to compare not only the musical's different renditions of "Closer to Heaven" to each other, but also to the Pet Shop Boys' original version on Nightlife. Most notably, the original is much faster, much more a dance song than in any of its performances in the show (or at least on the original cast album). Also intriguing is the fact that the original version's follow-up line, "never been further away," isn't used in the musical at all.

Mixes

Officially released

PSB renditions

Closer to Heaven cast album renditions

Official but unreleased

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


In Denial
  by David Burt (in the role of Vic Christian) and Stacey Roca

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999 (PSB); 2001 (cast)
Original album - Nightlife (PSB); Closer to Heaven (cast)
Producer (cast album version) - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The Closer to Heaven rendition of this father-daughter duet is somewhat more uptempo and "bouncier"—and, as it oddly turns out, less musically dramatic—than the original Neil-Kylie version on Nightlife. It now has a throbbing synth line, and some of the lyrics have been changed. (For instance, Shell's reference to Vic having a "rough trade boyfriend" has been excised, perhaps indicating a significant plot change.) Curiously, David Burt sings the final line, "A dad with a girl who knows he's gay," with a pronounced quivver in his voice (especially on the last word), adding a heightened degree of ambivalence that was missing from Neil's reading. I get the distinct sense of even greater distance between this father and daughter than I had from Neil and Kylie's original. So while the music itself seems to have become less "theatrical," the vocal performance comes across quite a bit more so. Still, I can't help but prefer the more majestic Nightlife version.

Not included on the Closer to Heaven cast album is a later reprise of "In Denial"—or possibly two of them—with Dave duetting with Shell. This time the title and new lyrics refer not to Vic's denial of his problems but to both Dave and Shell being in denial about his (Dave's) attraction to Lee and its implications for their own relationship. Demo renditions of these reprises featuring Neil's vocals have circulated "underground" but have not yet been officially released.

Mixes

Officially released

PSB renditions

Closer to Heaven cast album rendition

Official but unreleased

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


Call Me Old-Fashioned
  by Paul Broughton (in the role of Bob Saunders)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Paul Broughton—with the not insubstantial help of the lyrics, of course—does a terrific job of making his character thoroughly unlikeable with just one song. Yet, as with all really good villains, there's something appealing about him as well. For one thing, he's honest about his intentions. After all, the opening lines of his song are "I have to admit, I'm an absolute shit. At least you can't call me a hypocrite." And those lyrics are indeed ingenious, if for no other reason than for the way the term "old-fashioned" gets turned completely on its head. When we hear of someone being "old-fashioned," we usually think of someone quaint, upright, grandparently. Not Bob Saunders. When he talks about being "old-fashioned," he means decidedly non-PC: not-so-good old-fashioned vice, lechery, lust, greed, acquisitiveness, manipulativeness, and excess. He's a gay version of an old-fashioned entertainment industry power-broker, one who's certainly not above making ample use of the "casting couch." ("If I can't charm you, I'll just strong-arm you to bed—where you can be old-fashioned with me.") As superb as the music has been up till now, this is perhaps the first truly brilliant lyric of the evening. But it won't be the last—

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

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Nine Out of Ten
  by Stacey Roca and Paul Keating

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

A delightfully erotic number in which Neil and/or Chris (whoever is most responsible for the lyrics) gives full vent to his/their love of punning wordplay. To be blunt, Shell and Dave have been making out, after which they playfully compare notes, rating each other's love-making on a scale of ten. That's the first meaning of the title, as Shell scores Dave a nine out of ten. (Tellingly, Dave gives Shell only an eight.) Their conversation touches upon the matter of "size," and Dave asks, "Will nine out of ten do?"—to which Shell teases, "Is that inches or centimetres?" So that's a second meaning of "nine out of ten."

But you have to read between the lines to get the most profound meaning of the title, the one that once again reveals the cleverness of the Tennant/Lowe songwriting partnership. Dave's initial line in this song, said to himself after he and Shell have been making love, is a releaved "I'm straight!" For, as we'll soon see, "Straight Dave" is rather confused about his own sexuality. Shell senses this, so she comes right out and asks him how the experience of making out with her compares to when he "used to do it with men." Dave is quite taken aback by this, though he soon concedes that he has "fooled around" with other boys.

This exchange hints at the third and deepest meaning of the title—a reference to the notorious, hotly debated Kinsey Report assertion that roughly 10% of the population is primarily or exclusively homosexual. More recent research suggests that the actual figure may be closer to 5%, but that's a moot point; the 10% figure is the cliché that the Boys are playing with here. So, in effect, "nine out of ten" refers to the "straight" part of the population, which at this point Dave is desperately trying to be part of. As subsequent events will reveal, that particular meaning of "Nine Out of Ten" proves extremely ironic.

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demos with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


It's Just My Little Tribute to Caligula, Darling
  by Frances Barber

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

What might have been a stunning showstopper turns out to be somewhat disappointing, at least in the studio version. The music is good enough, and Billie Trix herself is in fine form in this paean to decadence, but I wish Neil and/or Chris could have worked a little harder on the lyrics. The chorus is nothing more than the title repeated four times in succession. (This is the same flaw that has limited the effectiveness of a few—and, fortunately, only a few—of the Boys' other songs; think "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More.") This is one of those theatrical numbers that is far better seen than heard. On stage it features numerous stops and starts, interspersed with dialogue. And "live" you get a much better sense as to what this song is all about, such as when Billie sings, "I mean, can you believe it?—he's straight?" On CD it sounds as though she's referring to the depraved, homicidal Roman emperor Caligula, but "live" it's clear that she's actually referring to "Straight Dave," whom by now Billie realizes isn't nearly as "straight" as he professes to be.

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

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Hedonism
  (instrumental)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Perhaps this is the show's chief opportunity for Chris to slip in one of his patented instrumental dance workouts. It also serves as the bridge between the first and second acts of the musical. At the end of Act 1, it serves as a backdrop to Vic's "hedonistic" return to drink and drugs after having previously given them up at his daughter Shell's behest. And at the start of Act 2, its frantic tempo and repeated cry of the title, "Hedonism!" (followed by a hearty "ho, ho!" laugh) provides the setting for a wild time at the nightclub—an "acrobatic dance routine," as one observer has put it. Chris has claimed that it's Neil shouting the "Hedonism!--ho, ho!" refrain, but it sure doesn't sound like Neil to this listener's ears. Keep in mind that Chris is notorious for speaking with tongue in cheek.

Annotations

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Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demo

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Friendly Fire
  by Frances Barber

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - Concrete, Format
Other releases - bonus track with single "I Get Along"; bonus disc with the U.S. "special edition" of Release

The term "friendly fire" comes from the military, in which it refers to mistaken attack by one's own troops. (For example, during the U.S. Civil War, in one of history's most famous instances of friendly fire, Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was shot and killed by his own sentries, who mistook him in the dim light for a Union officer.) In this lovely piano ballad, Billie describes her career of "coming under friendly fire—shot in the fatal cause of rock and roll." Often cited unfavorably in the tabloid press, savaged by music critics, and worshipped by obsessive fans, she bemoans her fate. Yet, despite herself, she revels in it all: "I have never—oh, no never—been ignored." (Such sentiments are reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's notorious remark, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.") In other words, the world of rock music all too often subjects its icons to "friendly fire": threatening them, sometimes even killing them, while simultaneously idolizing them.

Billie's reference to having studied "makeup, mime, and Buddha" led online fans to speculate that the inspiration for this song may have been David Bowie—a fact confirmed in Jonathan Harvey's diary entry for February 13, 1997, excerpted in the liner notes of the cast album: "Neil had a dream about recording a song with David Bowie. When he woke up he wrote it down. The result is a beautiful song called 'Friendly Fire.' It has inspired a whole new character, a faded rock star who I want to call Billie Trix." Neil later verified precisely this origin of the song in the interview that appears in the booklet accompanying the Boys' 2012 bonus-tracks collection Format.

Neil and Chris released their own version of this song on the four-track "Songs from the musical Closer to Heaven" promo disc and later on both the "I Get Along" DVD single and the "special edition" of Release. Aside from the difference in vocalists, the two versions are quite similar, and it's probably only my personal fondness for and familiarity with Neil's voice that makes me prefer the PSB performance.

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

PSB rendition

Frances Barber (as "Billie Trix") rendition for Closer to Heaven

PSB with Frances Barber

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Shameless
  by the "Vile Celebrities" (cast)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1993 (PSB); 2011 (cast)
Original album - Alternative (PSB); Closer to Heaven (cast)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - Very 2001 reissue Further Listening 1992-1994 bonus disc
Other releases - (none)

This song, originally released by the Pet Shop Boys as the b-side of their "Go West" single, has long been a fan favorite. And it's such a natural for theatrical treatment that it's no wonder at all that Neil and Chris decided to use it in their first musical. That is, it was made to be a showstopper. The only trouble is, at least in its cast album recording, it's vastly inferior to the Boys' own version. The omission of the third verse is only one of its flaws. More damaging, the musical arrangement isn't nearly as effective (oh, how I miss Neil's sampled "oohs" and "ahs"!). Again, I'm sure that seeing it performed "live"—where the singers and dancers are engaged in a lot of comic posing and interacting—would have helped me enjoy this number a lot more. As it is, I'd much rather go back and listen to the original.

Mixes

Officially released

PSB rendition

Closer to Heaven cast album rendition

List cross-references


Vampires
  by David Burt and Frances Barber

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999 (PSB); 2001 (cast)
Original album - Nightlife (PSB); Closer to Heaven (cast)
Producer (cast album version) - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague, Craig Armstrong
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Again, the Boys' own version of this song is so much better. Not only is their original instrumental arrangement and production superior, but I also badly miss Neil's vocal restraint. (His vocal limitations?—perhaps, but in this case less is more.) David Burt has an excellent voice, to be sure, and early on he does the song justice. But as it progresses, he emotes more and more, until by the end he's so histrionic in his performance, even hysterical, that one simply longs for it to end. But that's just in the studio version. "Live" it comes across very differently. The character of Vic has hit rock-bottom. He's truly tormented by his "vampirish" lifestyle (work all night, sleep all day, drain others), and at this point in the plot he has not only become estranged from his daughter but he has also witnessed her (and other characters as well) descending into the same booze-and-drugs morass in which he himself dwells. In other words, they're all becoming vampires. So from that perspective, his anguished vocal is certainly effective. Nevertheless, I still regard Chris and Neil's own treatment as the definitive one.

Mixes

Officially released

PSB renditions

Closer to Heaven cast album rendition

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Closer to Heaven
  by Paul Keating and Tom Walker (in the role of Mile End Lee)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999 (PSB); 2001 (cast)
Original album - Nightlife (PSB); Closer to Heaven (cast)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

In its second appearance on the cast album, "Closer to Heaven" becomes quite possibly the best gay love duet yet produced for the musical theater. Dave, despite his attempts to be "straight," finds himself falling in love with the handsome young drug-dealer Mile End Lee. Lee responds in kind, and the two wind up in bed together, expressing their mixed feelings of hesitation, uncertainty, mutual attraction and, ultimately, willingness to pursue their relationship further. Their song together alternates fully sung passages with simple spoken dialogue (written by Jonathan Harvey) set atop the music. In this gentle yet oddly realistic performance, "Closer to Heaven" achieves its most effective rendition in the show.

Mixes

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Out of My System
  by Stacey Roca

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This astounding track, which sounds like nothing the Pet Shop Boys had previously written or recorded, proves that Chris and Neil have been keeping their ears attuned to contemporary teen pop. It would be entirely at home on an album by Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child, or any number of other contemporary young dance/hip-hop/jackswing divas in training. (In fact, the Boys have cited Destiny's Child as well as the track "Try Again" by the late Aaliyah as specific influences.) Its insistently jerky mid-tempo rhythm defies you to sit still while listening to it, and it boasts ingenious use of cello samples that somehow manage to sound simultaneously nervous and sinuous.

Lyrically, in many ways it's a modern-day rewrite of "Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Shell has just discovered that her boyfriend Dave is fooling around behind her back—with another guy, no less. (At least the heroine of South Pacific didn't have that to contend with—only World War II.) She bemoans her fate to her female friends, but this girl is no mere victim of love. Rather than sit back and cry about it, she asserts that she simply needs to "get him out of [her] system." And, frankly, she leaves you with no doubt that she's going to do just that.

This is such an infectious, contemporary-sounding track (half of all the songs by female singers on U.S. radio at the time were very much in the same stylistic vein) that I suspect it could have become a major hit if it had been released as a single.

By the way, I also suspect that the lyrics include a bit of a "PSB inside joke" when Stacey (in the role of Shell) sings the lines—

He runs off with his pride and joy
A young, drug-dealing East End boy!

—especially when you consider that the singer herself might be thought of as a "West End girl."

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


K-Hole
  instrumental (interpolating "Run Girl Run!" by Frances Barber)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

A primarily instrumental track—a very disturbing, discordant one—that serves as the musical backdrop to Lee's death from a ketamine overdose. The title, "K-Hole," is a slang term for the hallucinigenic, depersonalized state that can result from ketamine. As I understand it, in early performances of the show Lee dies in Billie's arms, which helps to explain the use of Billie's fictional 1971 hit protest song, "Run Girl Run!" as an undercurrent. (As a matter of fact, "K-Hole" is built upon the chords of "Run Girl Run!") In later performances, the scene was changed so that Lee dies completely alone. And as he dies, we hear Billie's distant voice, deeply buried in the mix, singing lyrics based on the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War photograph of a young Vietnamese girl, running, naked and crying, suffering the effects of napalm burns. This strongly suggests that Lee is also metaphorically "burnt," and that his overdose and death has arisen from his own attempt to run away from himself and escape his life as a drug-dealer and -user. Also, through a plot-twist of fate, he now wrongly believes that Dave doesn't really love him, which depresses him further, while he also feels tremendous guilt at having come between Dave and Shell in the first place.

Lee's death serves as the story's climactic catalyst: the absolute low point for the surviving characters, yet the tragic event that ultimately convinces at least some of them—Dave in particular—to turn their lives around. On a separate but related note, Neil and Chris also produced two other recordings (not on the cast album) of "Run Girl Run!" by Frances Barber in the guise of Billie Trix.

Mixes

Officially released

Closer to Heaven cast rendition

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


For All of Us
  by Paul Keating

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

As Neil has pointed out, the original text of this touching ballad was much more personal, but he drastically rewrote the lyrics to fit the context of the musical, abbreviating them somewhat in the process. The character of Dave sings this song when he discovers to his horror that the young man he has come to love has just died of a drug overdose.

In contrast to the Pet Shop Boys' demo versions featuring Neil's vocals, which seem to convey a sense of emotional frailty, Paul Keating's frankly stronger voice lends his rendition an air of anger and power. The bitterness of the demos is still there, but now there's a little less resignation, a little more determination. As he sings, "I'm not crying just for you. I'm crying for me…. I'm crying for all of us," it's not so much grief over individual loss of love, but rather for everyone's loss of love: "For the impossibility of love in a world in which sex is a cruel competitive sport." This is one of the very rare occasions when I believe that another singer does one of the Boys' songs greater justice than Neil himself.

Mixes

Officially released

PSB renditions

Paul Keating (as "Straight Dave") rendition for Closer to Heaven

Official but unreleased

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

List cross-references


Closer to Heaven
  by Paul Keating

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999 (PSB); 2001 (cast)
Original album - Nightlife (PSB); Closer to Heaven (cast)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none
)

In its final treatment of the night, "Closer to Heaven" is a slow, doleful solo piece in which Dave decries his sudden loss of Lee as well as the love and hope he represented. But, despite his sadness, he sings a cautiously optimistic question: "Does darkness end in light?" He doesn't answer that question directly, but in view of the fact that he segues directly into the next, far more upbeat track, the likely answer is "Yes."

Mixes

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Positive Role Model
  by Paul Keating

Writers - Tennant/Lowe/White/Sepe/Radcliffe
First released - 2001
Original album - Closer to Heaven
Producer (cast album version) - Pet Shop Boys, Stephen Hague, Chris Zippel
Subsequent albums - Disco 3 (PSB)
Other releases - (none)

The closing song of the musical, and in some ways something of a quandary. The Pet Shop Boys' own version of this thoroughly rocking number (released on Disco 3 and as a bonus track on the German CD single of "London") was recorded in Germany with co-producer Chris Zippel and introduced "live" during their Summer 2000 concerts. Although I harbor a suspicion that the Boys' own version may be at least partly tongue-in-cheek, Paul Keating's spectacular "grande finale" performance from the musical begs to be taken more or less at face value. The character of "Straight Dave" is indeed in need of a positive role model, one that will help him fully accept himself and ultimately thrive as a gay man. So while I'm not ready to dismiss an "ironic" interpretation entirely, I can't overlook the fact that it may not fit very well within the context of the musical.

Incidentally, a recurring brief instrumental break between verses incorporates a string sample lifted from the classic 1974–75 Barry White hit "You're My First, My Last, My Everything"; hence the songwriting credit, which includes the composers of that song, White/Sepe/Radcliffe. And the final bars of "Positive Role Model" are sampled from the conclusion of the Nightlife version of "Closer to Heaven"—thus bringing us, in a manner of speaking, full circle.

It should be noted that in the 2015 London revivial of Closer to Heaven, "Positive Role Model" was replaced by "Vocal" as Straight Dave's closing number, although elements of the original song continued to appear at earlier points in the production.

Mixes

Officially released

PSB rendition

Paul Keating (as "Straight Dave") rendition for Closer to Heaven

Official but unreleased

PSB demo with Neil's vocal

Paul Keating renditions

List cross-references


Run Girl Run!
  by Frances Barber (as Billie Trix)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe (though credited to "Billie Trix")
First released - 2001
Original album - (none)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The song "Run Girl Run!" appears only somewhat subtly in Closer to Heaven and the cast album as a mixed-down segment of "K-Hole," which otherwise is an instrumental. But in an elaborate, half-joking scheme to enhance the fictional context of the show, the Pet Shop Boys wrote the song, recorded it with Frances Barber in two versions, and offered the resulting disc for sale (as "Billie Trix's biggest hit") in the lobby at later performances of the show. (The sleeve of this disc is pictured at the right.) The first track was the "original 1971 version" and the other a "1981 post-apocalyptic nightmare remix" (actually a re-recording with a new vocal, which, so the story goes, briefly revived Billie's career in the eighties).

This protest song is, as noted previously, based on photographer Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War image of a nine-year-old girl running in pain and terror after having been caught in a napalm attack. (The actual name of the girl is Kim Phuc Phan Thi; she survived the incident and has gone on to lead a good life outside of Vietnam.) "Billie" sings some of the most bitterly ironic lyrics that Neil and/or Chris have ever written, which deal with how this young girl's suffering has become her passport to unwitting and unwilling immortality as a nameless media celebrity, an icon of her age.

The Boys apparently adopt guises of their own as "Merlin Zoot" and "Lenny Snatch," the producers of the 1971 and 1981 versions, respectively. And striking productions they are, brilliantly capturing (and possibly satirizing) styles of their respective musical eras. The "1971" rendition is a weirdly gentle, dreamy post-hippie artifact of the singer-songwriter heyday, while the "1981" track sounds like an early example of the "Berlin school" of New Wave. It's remarkable, yet oddly unsurprising, that Chris and Neil would devote such energy and creativity to such an off-the-wall side effort as this. Of course, it's extremely limited release has made it highly collectible.

In early January 2008 Neil and Chris made their own demo version of this song available for listening on their official website. The instrumentation and arrangement are essentially identical to the Billie Trix "original 1971 version." In all likelihood the two recordings have exactly the same backing track, with only the vocals to distinguish them.

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

PSB renditions

Frances Barber (as "Billie Trix") renditions for Closer to Heaven

List cross-references


Songs that were at one time planned for Closer to Heaven but ultimately deleted

Several additional songs were at one time or another meant to be included in the musical, but were cut for various reasons:


The bitchiest/cleverest things
people said about Closer to Heaven

Even if you disagree with it wholeheartedly, a really well written scathing review can be a delight to read. And although the reviews of the Boys' musical Closer to Heaven weren't universally bad—indeed, some were quite good—some of the bad ones were really good, if you know what I mean. So please forgive me if I indulge my perverse sense of humor by quoting some of the bitchiest/cleverest comments that the critics had to offer. And remember: even Shakespeare got bad reviews.

And then there was this comment made nearly three years after the show closed by the Boys' collaborator, Jonathan Harvey, to Dominic Cavendish, an interviewer for the London Daily Telegraph (August 12, 2004):


Some of the better reviews and nicer things
people said about Closer to Heaven