Bolshy

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2013
Original album - Electric
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The leading candidate for the dumbest Pet Shop Boys song ever, which isn't necessarily a bad thing coming from such reliably intelligent songwriters. It's like a blast of fresh air—almost revolutionary, in fact. It's also one of the most maddeningly infectious things they've ever recorded. More than once I've awakened in the morning with this track playing in my head for no discernable reason aside from the viral way it insinuates itself into your consciousness. Or subconsciousness, as the case may be.

"Bolshy" was among the last songs composed for Electric—unlike most of the others, written well after the Elysium sessions. Its chorus ("Bolshy, Bolshy, Bolshy, Bolshy, oh/Where you lead my heart will go"), for all of its seeming "dumbness," immediately suggests two possible readings. In the first, Neil's narrative persona is in love with a "Bolshy," which could refer to a leftist political radical or simply to a rather boisterous individual. (See my annotations below.) In the other reading, that persona is, in effect, singing to himself—or, more precisely, to his own leftist political ideals and beliefs—affirming that he will always go where his heart leads.

I've always leaned more toward the former, in which "Bolshy" is indeed someone with whom the narrator is in love. As it turns out, in the March 2014 issue of the PSB Fan Club publication Literally, Neil described the narrator as "a pathetic man who's in love with a very dfficult woman." Unfortunately, his feelings may not be wholly mutual, at least to the extent that the narrator desires. He asks "Bolshy" to give him a sign of her true feelings, though he admits that those feelings might be repressed—but only just barely:

There you are, pretending you're lonely
I don't believe you don't know you could own me

The "you don't know you could own me" line is often repeated, underscoring its subtle irony. You see, the Marxist Bolsheviks (from whom the "Bolshy" name is derived) rejected the very concept of private ownership of property. But the narrator repeatedly asserts that Bolshy could indeed "own" him, if only she would fully acknowledge and embrace it. That, I believe, is the central conceit around which the entire song is built: how a leftist who ostensibly rejects private ownership nevertheless can't escape the way in which people come, figuratively, to "own" each other through love.

As one of my site visitors wrote to point out, several lines lend themselves to somewhat playful readings given the song's Bolshevik subtext. "Raise your voice, start a feud" echo the idea of starting a revolution, and "Where you lead my heart will go" parallels the way the Bolsheviks, true believers in their cause, followed their leaders to spread the revolution. That latter line might even suggest a sort of "totalitarianism of love," so to speak—the way in which love can sometimes lead people to do things, almost blindly, that they might not otherwise even consider. Neil's choices of words and phrasing are hardly accidental.

Hmmm—maybe it's not such a dumb song after all.

Annotations

Mixes/Versions

Officially released

List cross-references