Tranquilizer
by Superchumbo with Neil Tennant

Writers - Tennant/Stephan
First released - 2005
Original album - WowieZowie (Superchumbo)
Producer - Tom Stephan
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

DJ, producer, and remixer Tom Stephan, who has worked for several years now under the moniker Superchumbo, has the distinction of at one time enjoying a, shall we say, "more than professional" relationship with Neil Tennant. But he has also worked quite professionally with the Pet Shop Boys on more than one occasion, having remixed "Paninaro '95" (in the guise of "Tracy & Sharon"), "New York City Boy," and "Sexy Northerner." So it's not at all surprising that Neil should appear as a guest artist on his album WowieZowie, released in June 2005.

It apparently came as a bit of a surprise, however, to Superchumbo himself. As he related to interviewer Cary James (and as quoted on the Boyz.co.uk website), "I rang Neil up to tell him Samantha Fox was going to be on the album, and he was like. 'Are you going to ask me?' I hadn’t thought of asking him because I probably thought he wouldn’t do it. So I asked him, he said yes…. I sent him some stuff and he called me up and said, 'I’ve got it. Let’s go into the studio and do it.'" And so they did.

Neil sings (and at times speaks) lead on the co-written track "Tranquilizer," with Neil writing the lyrics and melody atop Stephan's backing track. Against a heavily techno-oriented soundscape in which the throbbing rhythm track seems considerably more important than the melody—recall the infamous love-it-or-hate-it Madonna-Björk collaboration "Bedtime Story," only with a pronounced drum-and-bass influence, and you'll get the basic feel of it—Neil spins a rather cryptic, fragmentary tale that's a close cousin to "Somebody Else's Business." (He does seem to exhibit a curious recurring fascination with mentally and/or emotionally distraught women. I could go off on a tangent at this point about how gay artists and even gay men in general often gravitate sympathetically toward such characters, but I would be waltzing deeply and dangerously into the realm of stereotypes.)

The lyrics describe a woman who "feels painted into a corner" by some combination of internal and external stress. From the first verse, with its apparent evocation, somewhat profanely expressed, of a post-9/11 world (though the "thunder in July" line puzzles me), the text moves inwardly in the second verse, which refers to "the strangest moods begin to swing." That, in effect, is just another way of saying "mood swings."

The solution to these terrible pressures, someone suggests perhaps offhandedly, is to "take a tranquilizer." Of course, a tranquilizer does nothing to change the horrors of the real world, but it can work wonders in helping a rather fragile person to cope with them. It's difficult to say, however, how Neil actually feels about this. Does he consider tranquilizers a reasonable strategy for survival? Or are they merely a means of burying one's head in the proverbial sand and not really dealing with anything? In short, is "taking a traquilizer" good advice or bad? Always the clever, thoughtful lyricist, Neil refuses to take an indisputable stand; he leaves it up to us to ponder and decide for ourselves.

List cross-references