Gin and Jag

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2009
Original album - Format
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with single "Love etc."

Another track completed in early January 2009. On their official website Neil described it succinctly and, as it turns out, understatedly: "It's quite dark." Later, in the 2012 Format interview booklet, he referred to it as "a cautionary tale about the Internet" (more about that in a moment), adding that "it's one of the creepiest songs we've ever written."

According to the 2006 edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable, the title phrase "gin and jag," which dates back to the 1960s, is British slang referring to "gin and a Jaguar car, two of the desirable perquisites of the upper-middle class and an encapsulation of their lifestyle."

Neil based his lyrics on a true story he'd read in the newspaper of a near-rape experience from which the woman barely escaped. Backed by one of their harshest, most ominous-sounding arrangements—which ingeniously overlays the slightly twee sound of a celesta atop distorted, discordant power chords, possibly mirroring a certain duality in the personality of the narrator—the Boys paint a thoroughly unflattering portrait of a well-to-do middle-aged character who concedes that he's "a little too gin and jag." With the help of the Internet, he has hooked up with a perhaps naive young woman. The "gin and jag" guy has now invited this potential lover to his fairly high-class digs, complete with "quite a view." As his paramour mixes him a drink ("go easy on the tonic"), she's warned, "Be careful with that decanter, dear—do you know how much it's worth?"

Neil's lyrical persona here is a classic "untrustworthy narrator." That is, we can't necessarily take everything he says at face value. While he's clearly affluent, has he really been as great a success as he makes himself out to be? Did he really never marry simply because he "didn't want a litter"? (An admittedly funny line, albeit a nasty, cynical one.) Was he really "quite a catch" in his prime? Is he truly not yet "an old has-been"? Perhaps the most revealing line is when he warns, "You don't want to end up bitter." Yet that's precisely how he sounds throughout the song: an extremely bitter man lonely for company. But he also reveals both his pride and his pridefulnes—not to mention his sheer lust—when he tells his would-be lover, "If you don't want to give it a go tonight, you may as well pack your bag." No, he's not a very nice person.

While this is indeed an extremely unattractive character portrait, it's pervaded by an air of tragedy and regret. The Boys make us feel for this wretched guy. In fact, the overwhelming mood seems to be one of tremendous waste, which Neil evokes somewhat ironically early on by quoting George Bernard Shaw's famous line, "Youth is wasted on the young." And the narrator's opening words, "Don't stare at the setting sun" (which recur with every chorus), is both a literal warning to his partner (who's apparently gazing out the window) and a figurative warning to himself as he desperately tries to fend off old age and death.

In short, "Gin and Jag" is a remarkable track that, as its narrator suggests of himself ("I know my taste isn't everyone's"), won't be to everyone's liking. But it demonstrates as well as or even better than any other recent song of theirs the amazing breadth and power of Tennant and Lowe's songwriting. That they should feel free to relegate such a song to mere "b-side status" is testament not only to their determination to preserve the thematic integrity of the concurrent album Yes (keeping it an upbeat "pop" album) but also to the wealth of the original material at their disposal.

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