A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2012
Original album - Fundamental 2017 reissue Further Listening 2005-2007 bonus disc
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "Winner"

With a mildly cheeky French count-in of "Un, deux, trois, quatre," the Pet Shop Boys kick off this marvelous track that firmly follows their long and hallowed tradition of releasing single b-sides and bonus tracks that are every bit as good as—and sometimes even better than—the single itself.

As documented previously and affirmed on the Pet Shop Boys' official website, Neil and Chris initially wrote this song and recorded it as a demo back in 2007. In fact, they had written it expressly for Kylie Minogue, but then decided to keep it for themselves. They fiddled with it further in February 2008. But it wasn't until roughly four years later that they reworked it into its final form and decided to release it as one of the bonus tracks for their "Winner" single in August 2012. (They had considered including it on Elysium, but Chris—who apparently isn't particularly fond of it—vetoed its inclusion.) Originally with Kylie in mind, Neil wrote the lyrics from the perspective of a woman who's attracted to a sophisticated, cosmopolitan French businessman, thus accounting for the assorted French references.

This uptempo, rock guitar-inflected—and that's Neil playing the prominent electric guitar—slightly comic number addresses and comments on an unnamed jet setter who seems just a little too good to be true. Nearly everyone who meets him envies him intensely: "When people see you, they want to be you." Yet Neil can't help but suggest that their envy may be a bit misguided when he says, "It's all perception how people see you." Nevertheless, the narrator (who Neil, as noted above, says is female) is far from immune to this guy's charms when she admits,

I feel like sending you a love letter
Let's face it, nobody does it better
You're a promising prospect
From what I've seen

Indeed, the narrator unabashedly finds him physically attractive. My favorite part of the song is the recurring line in the chorus—from which, of course, the title is taken—"You really have a certain, um, je ne sais quoi." Each time he sings it, Neil lends that "um" more than a hint of lasciviousness. This, together with the highly suggestive first verse, underscores the erotic undercurrent of the lyrics. Despite its comic edge—especially in the final verse, in which our jet setter appears capable of charming even the ayatollahs of Iran—this is a blatantly sexy song. It's just meant to be sung with a great big smile.

A couple of site visitors have suggested that Neil may have written these lyrics about himself from the perspective of someone else, particularly a fan, thereby somewhat poking fun at himself in the process. Another interesting viewpoint shared by a site visitor is that this may be another of the Boys' songs (like "I Get Along," "I'm with Stupid," and, to a lesser extent, "Legacy") inspired by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, with each verse describing different phases of his career: pre-PM, PM, and post-PM. But in light of Neil's own assertions about his narrative persona in the song, such interpretations fall outside the realm of the Boys' own stated intentions—the intentional fallacy notwithstanding.


List cross-references