Skeletons in the Closet

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

Now this is one of the most curious songs the Pet Shop Boys have ever written, or at least have released. They wrote it in March 2015 and worked on it some more the following month—another of the many songs composed during the sessions leading up to Super. Neil once said that they might incorporate it into a future version of their musical Closer to Heaven, though that now seems less likely after being released on their 2023 EP Lost.

With instrumentation and rhythm highly reminiscent of "Twenty-something" (which, being a Super track, was composed and produced around the same time), "Skeletons in the Closet" alludes to some undefined but haunting "mystery," though it's never made clear exactly who is haunted by it. The narrator and those with whom he lives? Someone else he knows? Society at large? His nation? All of humanity? The Boys leave it up to us to fill in the blanks.

The language suggests a haunted house:

Don't go down to the basement
Lock the attic door
Keep the cupboard shut
And put a padlock on that drawer

The title phrase, which then follows, is an old English-language idiom that refers to some long-held secret—and one long "dead," hence the "skeletons" metaphor—that an individual, family, or group has kept hidden away. While it remains unknown, it presumably has the potential of being revealed at any time to the tremendous embarrassment or even serious detriment of the person(s) harboring the secret. Indeed, Neil sings that those skeletons are "struggling to get out." It's something that happened "so long ago," something "we never talk about, but we all know."

Neil suggests that all sorts of strategies are used to distract us from that hidden truth. Again he employs household metaphors: "Turn up the radio…. Play something loud and foolish and put the kettle on for tea."

The Boys have observed that, though this song can apply to any number of different situations, it stems most strongly from and comments most directly on Russia, which has (in Neil's words from Annually 2023) "never really dealt with Stalinism. It's just created Putinism." But, at least from my own perspective, no one explanation seems adequate. Goodness knows history (which is specifically referred to twice in the song, as well as those references to "so long ago") is replete with horrible incidents that continue to haunt us to this day. We all collectively—and probably most of us individually—have skeletons in our closet. Take your pick of them, whatever works best for you. And that may ultimately be what the Pet Shop Boys have in mind.


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