No More Ballads

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2013
Original album - (none)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with single "Thursday"

Released in November 2013 as a b-side with the "Thursday" single, the Boys first worked on this track in late 2012. It had previously borne the titles "Public Disgrace" and simply "No Ballads." In the January 2013 issue of Literally Neil described it as "our Rihanna hit she hasn't recorded yet." This may simply be his light-hearted way of characterizing its style, influenced by the hits of that popular Barbadian singer—one of the most commercially successful pop artists of the past decade. There is, however, another quite intriuging possibility. It could be a sly allusion to Rihanna's infamously tumultuous relationship with fellow pop singer Chris Brown.

Although Brown isn't known primarily as a balladeer, he has recorded a number of slow romantic numbers, including his 2006 #10 single "Say Goodbye" and his 2007 #2 hit "With You." In March 2009, following an apparent altercation with Rihanna, Brown was formally charged with assault and making criminal threats. Three months later, Brown pleaded guilty to the assault charge, was placed on probation, and ordered to keep his distance from his former girlfriend. So it's by no means a great stretch to think of these lyrics as being sung from Rihanna's own point of view.

Despite its title, the song is indeed a sumptuous ballad, sung from the perspective of someone—Rihanna or not—who has been badly burned in a personal relationship with a talented singer whose balladry, at least to the narrator's ears, now rings false:

I could forgive you
But not your ballads
They're much too fake to ignore

The lovely music provides a sharp contrast to the scathingly critical lyrics, which at times border on sounding overly harsh ("You're an idiot and a public disgrace"). But, then again, if we were to put ourselves in the uncomfortable shoes of the narrator—someone who is forced to listen to gorgeous love songs sung beautifully by a vocalist who is now, at least in his (the narrator's) eyes, anything but beautiful, we would probably be equally prone to leveling such insults. "Your words of love never really meant a thing": such words can only come from a badly broken heart. No wonder he implores this singer to "sing no more ballads." It's now just too painful to hear them.

More than a heartbreak song, it's a powerful reminder to those of us who, as spectators and consumers in modern-day celebrity culture, too often fail to distinguish between singers and their songs. Lovely music can be made by some very unlovely people.

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