Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2023
Original album - Lost (EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This track—a stylistic cousin to 2013's "Inside a Dream"—was composed by Chris in February 2015, after which Neil provided "chant vocals." The title is a portmanteau slang term for something that has proven a failure or that otherwise doesn't meet expectations. It's derived by combining the German word kaputt (meaning "broken," "failed," or "useless")—widely adopted by Russian soldiers during the late stages of World War II, who would often confront German soldiers with the words "Hitler kaputt," by which means it entered the Russian language (and, from there, English) as kaput—and the Russian words putnik (meaning "traveler") and/or Sputnik (the name of the famed 1957 Russian satellite, the first man-made object placed into orbit, which itself means "traveling companion" or "fellow traveler"). The word "kaputnik" itself may have been coined by worldwide mass media shortly after the December 6, 1957, failure of the first the United States' first attempt to launch a satellite two months after the success of Sputnik. When, on live television, the U.S. Vanguard TV-3 launch collapsed upon liftoff into a fireball, the press sarcastically dubbed it "kaputnik" (along with several other similarly derisive derivations, including "flopnik" and "dudnik"). According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), the first documented use of "kaputnik" appears to have been in the U.K.'s own Daily Express.

As for what's going on in this remarkable (and remarkably harsh-sounding) song—another instance of Neil's ongoing fascination with Russian history and culture—it seems to boil down to this: does it employ the figure of Vladimir Putin attacking one of the former Soviet republics (most notably Ukraine) as a metaphor for a jilted lover striving to force his former mate to return to him through stalking and harassment, or is it the other way around? That is, is it about a love affair gone bad, described in terms of international conflict, or is it about an international conflict described as if it were a love affair gone bad? Either way works. As the stalking ex-lover and/or Putin boldly declares, "I'll never recognize your new independence."

I'll be your kaputnik
I'll undermine you
And get in your way
I'll still resent
The fact that you left me
I won't relax
Until you come back to stay

Probably the most revealing portion of the song, however, is spoken rather than sung by Neil:

Look out of your window
One morning in summer
My tanks will be driving
To park on your lawn
They'll crush all your flowers
With radios blaring
And computers sharing
Violence and porn

Using military vehicles—not to mention computerized assaults on one's moral foundation—simply as part of a very extended metaphor for making life miserable for an erstwhile lover seems a bit much. So I'm inclined to believe that they're not metaphorical at all. In short, those are real tanks! I believe this song is in fact about Putin trying to force Ukraine back to Russia. Putin isn't the metaphor for a jilted lover, but rather a jilted lover is a metaphor for Putin.

But, getting back to the likely origins, as noted above, of the word "kaputnik," why would Putin use that term to describe himself? After all, if a "kaputnik" is a failure, why would Putin refer to himself as a failure? Perhaps when this song puts the words "I'll be your kaputnik" in his mouth, it's akin to the meaning of the old metaphorical cliché of something "being the death" of someone, as in "Cigarettes will be the death of you." In other words, cigarettes will cause your death. So when he says, "I'll be your kaputnik," he's actually saying, "I'll be the cause of your failure." Another metaphorical cliché of this sort might be "I'll be your Waterloo." Alternatively, although I can't vouch for its accuracy, it's been suggested that "kaputnik" can refer to someone who wreaks destruction—who breaks things or ruins situations for others—which certainly fits well into the context of this song.


List cross-references