Casanova in Hell

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2006
Original album - Fundamental
Producer - Trevor Horn
Subsequent albums - Concrete
Other releases - (none)

With its deceptively simple yet lovely and affecting melody, coupled with incredibly wry lyrics and a superb vocal by Neil, "Cassanova in Hell" may emerge as the album's "sleeper"—a quiet, unexpected standout.

Casanova was an actual historical figure, an 18th-century Italian whose memoirs guaranteed his legendary status. Though most famous as a voracious lover and seducer of women, he had a number of other accomplishments to his name, including having served by turns as a soldier, a spy, an alchemist, a priest, a gambler, and even a lottery director. Inspired by the short novel Casanova's Homecoming by the Viennese writer Arthur Schnitzler, Neil's lyrics deal with the elderly Casanova confronting the harsh realities of his old age. It may also be worth speculating whether the Boys' 2005 sojourn in Italy while writing songs for Fundamental may also have influenced their choice of protagonist.

Though in the third person, the lyrics are written from Casanova's perspective. No longer able to seduce, no longer even able to achieve an erection (a reference accompanied by a seriocomic descending swoop of strings), he bitterly relies on voyeurism, spying from his "secret chamber" upon a young couple making love, to achieve some small measure of satisfaction. And then it hits him—how he can escape the "hell" in which his old age has confined him:

Back in the library
His revenge is his story
What he will write will recall the bite
Of his wit and legendary appetite

Casanova will have "the last laugh" by composing and publishing his memoirs, in essence voyeuristically looking back on his own life—perhaps embellished by his imagination—so that "his erection will live in history." In effect, he regains his sexual potency by immortalizing it.

Some more sensitive fans have expressed displeasure at the use of the word "erection" in this song. But the July 2006 issue of Literally reveals that the lyrics originally included a second word that might have caused even more dismay. The line "His ageing fate to contemplate" was originally "His ageing fate to masturbate"—but then the Boys decided that that was just too much, and reworded it.

It's interesting to note that by sheer coincidence a major motion picture about Casanova was released just a few months before the album. Though it flopped at the box office, it may unfortunately lead less informed observers to believe the Pet Shop Boys belatedly and misguidedly hopped aboard a "Casanova bandwagon" with this song. Also, several of my site visitors have written to me about a 2005 BBC television about Casanova, which may (or may not) have influenced the Boys as well. Another remarkable coincidence is the fact that this particular BBC production starred David Tennant—as a major PSB fan who "borrowed" his professional surname from Neil because there was already another U.K. actor working under his birth name, David McDonald. It also featured Matt Lucas, one-half of the "Little Britain" comedy duo (along with another huge PSB fan, David Walliams), who appeared in the "I'm with Stupid" video. Small world, isn't it?

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