Cricket Wife

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2021
Original album - (none)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This song, released in May 2021 on a special two-track CD single included with the 2021 edition of the Pet Shop Boys' fan publication Annually (and subsequently available as a downloadable digital single), was written and recorded by Chris and Neil at their respective homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. As they stated on their official website, Chris composed the music as a "classical-style" instrumental at his mother's suggestion, to which Neil then added lyrics drawn from a poem he had previously written. The resulting recordings were then mixed into a final track by their longtime musical associate Pete Gleadall. Described by the Boys as "dramatic," including "orchestral sounds" (presumably samples), and nearly ten minutes in length, it's one of the most unusual songs in the PSB catalogue.

The term "cricket wife" is generally used to refer to the spouses of U.K. cricketers—that is, cricket players. Around the world, the wives and girlfriends of high-profile male (and often quite wealthy) professional sports figures are very often themselves thrust into the public spotlight, becoming the subjects of rumor, gossip, fashion magazines, and tabloid reporting. While in the United States this phenomenon is usually manifested as "basketball wives" and, only a little less often, "baseball wives" and "football wives," in the U.K. it's most frequently associated with the sports of soccer, rugby, and, indeed, cricket. More pertinently to this song, however, the term "cricket wife" doesn't necessarily refer to the spouse of a professional cricketer; it applies to amateurs as well. (It can also be used to refer to the wife of a cricket fan as well, particularly one who may seem even more devoted to the sport than he is to his wife, although the term "cricket widow" would be more appropriate.) As it turns out, here it refers specifically to the wife of an amateur who plays the game with his friends just for the fun of it.

Neil has reportedly said that the lyrics were inspired by his mother, who passed away in 2008. This is not to say that the song's central character is his mother—only that his mother served, in at least some ways, as an inspiration, perhaps a "starting point" from which the character then developed. He elaborated on this in Annually 2021, stating:

"It's really about my parents. My father played cricket for many years—when we were children we used to go on Saturdays in summer and watch him play. My brother Simon and I liked it, because the wives of the players in those days would make this massive tea halfway through the match where you'd get ham sandwiches and cakes and orange squash and cups of tea and stuff. And then they'd be watching the game as well, and chatting."

The lyrics are rather challenging, aptly complementing the challenging, somewhat avant-garde music, at least by PSB standards. (It's worth noting that this may be the most "Mom-influenced" song in the PSB corpus, Chris's mother having inspired the music and Neil's mother inspiring the lyrics.) Both the music and the lyrics seem to be divided into several sections or "movements":

One of my site visitors has suggested a slightly different interpretation that has a good deal of merit. What if it's not the wife who is in the hospital dying but rather her husband, who had survived her preceding death? And it's his dream of his youthful days playing cricket as his wife sits and watches with the other women? At the end of the match—which signals the end of his life—her spirit comes to "collect" him and they go off together, now reunited forever in death. This situation would more closely parallel the experience of Neil's own parents in that his father in fact outlived his mother by approximately a year. Probably the only reasons I don't embrace this theory are that (1) I believe it's unlikely Neil that would have titled the song "Cricket Wife" if she weren't the main character, whose words we hear and whose mind we get to inhabit, and (2) I didn't think of it myself. Neil himself clarified the matter quite succinctly when, with regard to this song, he told interviewer Olivia Laing, "It's weird singing about your mother dying. I was crying singing it sometimes."

Though it may not be to every fan's liking, "Cricket Wife" shows the Boys adventurously stretching themselves musically and lyrically. If only everyone could have been so ambitious and creative while in pandemic isolation.


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