Alone Again, Naturally

Writers - Gilbert O'Sullivan
First released - 2005
Original album - Gilbert O'Sullivan (various artists promo)
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

A rare 2005 promo of Gilbert O'Sullivan songs (put out by BMG, eponymously titled simply Gilbert O'Sullivan) includes this otherwise unreleased cover version of his classic 1972 hit performed as a duet by the Pet Shop Boys and Elton John. They recorded it in 2003 during the sessions in which they made their duet remake with Elton of "In Private." Neil and Chris also recorded during the same sessions another rendition of the song without Elton's participation, although this "solo" version has not yet seen the light of day. Both tracks were produced by the Norwegian (but U.S.-based) team of Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, better known as Stargate.

O'Sullivan's original toyed with the listener by contrasting its relatively jaunty music with a decidedly downbeat lyric: no less than an outright contemplation of suicide arising from frustration at the transcience of love, whether that transcience is the result of death or sheer fickleness. The PSB/Elton version is more obviously somber, though a touch of that jauntiness remains. The melody alone guarantees that. Neil sings the first verse, Elton the second, Neil takes the bridge (aside from a final echo by Elton), and they take turns in the third.

One of the saddest songs ever to hit #1, "Alone Again, Naturally" is in some ways so overwrought—the narrator is jilted at the wedding altar, questions the existence of God, and cannot reconcile himself with the death of his parents, all in the space of about three minutes—that it practically begs for either scorn or a "camp" interpretation (or both) among those of an even moderately jaded persuasion. But I don't detect a hint of either scorn or camp in this rendition. The Boys and Elton play it straight, so to speak, leaving it totally up to us how to react. Any reaction would surely reveal more about the listener than about the songwriter and performers.

Interestingly, the Boys aren't very happy about the fact that this recording was released to the general public, even in such an extremely limited fashion. It was apparently done without their advance knowledge and permission.

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