I Don't Know What You Want
But I Can't Give It Any More

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999
Original album - Nightlife
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, David Morales
Subsequent albums - PopArt, Smash
Other releases - single (UK #15, US Sales #66, US Dance #2)

The first single from Nightlife (at least in Britain; in the U.S., it was the second single, following "New York City Boy") is another in the Boys' tradition of inordinately long song titles, and it's a textbook study in their patented style of blending dance beats, grand orchestral flourishes, and somewhat depressing lyrics. (They tell a tale of a disintegrating love affair. No new territory there.) The chorus is hardly anything to brag about: it's nothing more than the title repeated four times in an A-B-A-B chord structure, in which the instrumental harmonies change while the words and melody remain the same.

Lyrically speaking, the most interesting thing about the song is that, aside from the chorus, it consists almost entirely of questions. It's as if the narrator is trying desperately to find out what it is that his lover wants—despite the fact that, whatever it is, he knows he still can't provide it. He even asks questions that allude to real or imagined infidelity: "Is he better than me? Was it your place or his?… Did you think it was wrong?" Aside from that fairly clever narrative device, simply taken as a song—that is, only as melody, chord structure, and lyrics—it's one of the dimmer lights in the Tennant-Lowe catalogue, particularly among their singles. Yet it's performed with such tragic, even epic grandeur that you can't help but admire the thing.

The U.S. single version was dramatically remixed by Peter Rauhofer, the man behind Club 69. A couple of unreleased David Morales mixes include a brief bridge featuring the legendary excised lyric, "If anyone can, the Action Man can" (repeated four times)—a reference to the cartoon character/action figure popular in the late sixties and early seventies. (Neil, who once worked for Marvel Comics, counts an Action Man figurine among his collectibles.) These lines were a holdover from a very early version of the song, which was originally written as an answer to Aqua's infamous 1997 hit "Barbie Girl." But although it was his idea to begin with, Chris apparently disliked the end result. So when Neil came up with new "I don't know what you want…" lyrics, they abandoned the Action Man concept altogether. Versions of the song with the additional "Action Man lyrics" remain officially unreleased, although "unauthorized" recordings have leaked online.


Officially released

Official but unreleased

*Note: The "Action Man" lyric referred to above appears in these two officially unreleased David Morales mixes.

List cross-references