placeholderMy Beautiful Laundrette

Released - 2020
Chart peak - N/A

It was announced in July 2019 that the Pet Shop Boys had composed music for a new stage production based on the popular 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette. As Neil and Chris stated in a press release, "It's wonderful to be part of the team bringing My Beautiful Laundrette from the screen to the stage and we've enjoyed writing mainly instrumental music to be presented within a British Asian context." Subsequent news online suggested that they had composed several pieces of background/incidental music for portions of the play as well as two new full-fledged songs.

The original film story written by Hanif Kureshi is a comedy-drama set in South London during the 1980s. It centers on Omar, a young Pakistani man living in London, and his friendship and eventual romance with a troubled young ethnically English man named Johnny. The two end up managing a laundrette—a self-service public laundry, more commonly referred to as a "laundromat" in the United States—originally owned by Omar's uncle.

In September 2019, the new stage adaptation debuted at The Curve Theatre in Leicester, England, its first venue of a U.K. autumn tour. The PSB songs include both previously released tracks from the period in which the story is set and several new numbers. None of them are performed "live" by the characters onstage, but rather are pre-recorded tracks performed by the Pet Shop Boys themselves. Most of the new pieces are instrumentals, but two, "Angelic Thug" and "No Boundaries," are fully realized songs with lyrics (although the former appears first in instrumental form). All of them, aside from those two, are apparently brief in nature, occurring more or less as fragments or "excerpts."

The Pet Shop Boys have announced that a special limited-edition CD of seven tracks that they wrote and recorded for My Beautiful Laundrette will be released exclusively as a bonus accompanying their Annually 2020 publication (although one of them had already seen release as a single b-side). These tracks are:

In addition, a number of older PSB tracks were used in the stage production as well, including "West End Girls," "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)," "Tonight Is Forever," "I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)," and "Left to My Own Devices," among others.


Omar's Theme

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

A rather "Asian-sounding" uptempo instrumental that features a real or synthesized sitar, which is appropriate enough in a musical theme for a character of Hindustani descent. It apparently occurs twice in the show—once in Act 1 and again in Act 2. About a third of the way into the track, a sampled voice begins repeating, over and over again, a single Punjabi phrase. (See the annotation below.)

As it turns out, "Omar's Theme" proves to be the slightly abbreviated instrumental backing for the full-fledged song "No Boundaries."

Annotations


Angelic Thug

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The music for this track is virtually identical to that of "Johnny's Theme" but appears here as a song complete with lyrics. Its light, bouncy arrangement boasts a rhythmic pattern somewhat reminiscent of Bilingual/"Twenty-something.

The lyrics describe the "angelic thug" of the title; considering the musical match with "Johnny's Theme," that character must be Johnny himself. Right off the bat he's identified as an "alpha male… born to lead the fight," a member of the "British working class" who's somewhat prone to drink. He's characterized as "a loyal dog about to bark." But he's also "a handsome boy, someone's pride and joy," even recurringly described in the chorus as "pretty." This contrast of looks and character gives rise to his being identified as an "angelic thug." What's more, he's not just looks and emotion; he also has a head on his shoulders and "talks a lot of sense."

The most interesting aspect of the music is the way it suddenly slows down during the bridge—

That look in his eyes
Consolation prize
What he stops to ask you for
May come as a surprise

—lending an unexpected but palpable air of mystery and romance to the song's mood. But then, just as suddenly, the tempo springs back to the previous rapid pace for another go at the chorus.

Incidentally, the title"Angelic Thug" echoes the famous oxymoronic line in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which the heroine describes her lover, who has just killed her cousin, as a "fiend angelical."

Annotations

List cross-references


Johnny's Dark Side

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

As befitting its title, this is a decided downbeat minor-key instrumental with a powerful, almost overwhelming bass line. Interestingly, the rather vicious sound of barking dogs begins to punctuate the track about halfway through, which surely goes a long way toward conveying the "dark side" of Johnny. He was, after all, described as "a loyal dog about to bark" in "Angelic Thug."


Night Sings (Popa's Theme)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

A brief, somber mid-tempo instrumental characterized by Hindustani-inspired instrumentation, particularly in its percussion, woodwinds, and sitar, whether actual or (as I suspect) "synthesized."


Johnny's Theme

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This uptempo instrumental, which employs essentially the same music as "Angelic Thug" (thus thematically identifying Johnny as such) is dominated by a synth-trumpet that repeats the melody carried by the sung lyrics in that song. The backing instrumentation is marked by other synth-horns and fairly subtle choir-like "ooh"/"ahh" vocals.

It's my understanding (though I may be mistaken) that "Johnny's Theme" actually appears earlier in the show than "Angelic Thug," despite the opposite order in which these two tracks appear on the CD.


Beautiful Laundrette

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This upbeat, dance-oriented instrumental is nearly twice as long as the others here and is almost "epic" in mood. It's almost certainly meant to convey symbolically the importance of the titular laundrette in the storyline, not to mention the hearts and minds of the show's protagonists.

If it sounds familiar to longtime PSB fans with "deep knowledge" of their music, it should: it's strongly based on their officially unreleased but nonetheless readily available "Bobby 'O' demo" version of "I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)," thereby dating back roughly 35 years!


No Boundaries

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2019
Original album - My Beautiful Laundrette EP
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - Bonus track with the single "Dreamland"

It was Chris who suggested the title of the culminating song of the show, formally released in late October 2019 as a bonus track with the CD single and digital bundle for "Dreamland." It expresses in a forthright manner the familiar—yet, in our world, apparently not yet familiar enough—idea that "Love has no boundaries." This is clearly one of the primary themes of the show and of the original film on which it is based, which centers on the growing relationship of Omar and Johnny, two young men from very different cultural backgrounds who grow close and fall in love during the course of the story. So the title phrase carries multiple implications: no national boundaries, no cultural boundaries, no sexual boundaries.

At least among tracks released by the Boys, "No Boundaries" is musically unique. (That is, if you don't count the aforementioned "Omar's Theme," which is essentially the instrumental backing for this song.) Its opening instrumentation of sitar, tamboura, and tabla (either actual or sampled)—quite fitting in light of the importance of Indo-Pakistani culture to the show's storyline—continues as an undercurrent throughout the track, audible even at those points when it's all but drowned out by more familiar PSB-style dance elements. The melody also seems to bear an "eastern" influence, though not so nearly markedly as the instrumentation. A delightful sidenote on that instrumentation is that it includes the "Neilotron": the Pet Shop Boys' digital variation on the mellotron that employs samples of Neil singing "ah" syllables at various pitches.

The lyrics express Omar and Johnny's mutual feelings after what they have been through together during the course of the story:

              … we're in this for good
Living a new life where love has no boundaries
I'm not the same as you
You're not the same as me
But we both agree that love has no boundaries

One especially nice pair of lines conveys both the cautiousness and uncertainty underlying their relationship and, regardless, their growing sense that together they can overcome the challenges they face:

If I am the question that has to be asked
You are the answer spoken at last

The play, again like the film, closes on a positive, hopeful note as Omar and Johnny come to understand that their love for each other may be sufficient to overcome their differences and the barriers that their cultures and society may place between them.

It's worth noting, by the way, that in an age of same-sex marriage debates, border walls, and growing anti-immigrant feelings, a song like this might have even more resonance today than it would have had in the 1980s setting of the play.

Annotations