London

Writers - Tennant/Lowe/Zippel
First released - 2002
Original album - Release
Subsequent albums - Disco 3
Other releases - single (only in Germany and a few other countries)

What a strange song: a beautiful melody, a gorgeous production, but strange nonetheless. It's the story of a pair of deserters from the Russian army who make their way to London in hopes of forging a new life for themselves—which they do, although they wind up resorting to credit card fraud in order to get by. Singing to a largely acoustic backdrop, Neil adopts the role of one of these emigrés, his voice digitally (and oddly) manipulated throughout the song in such a way to exaggerate his usual vocal idiosyncracies. (That famous "catch" in his voice, not unlike that of Johnny Mathis, is particularly accentuated.) In the chorus he urges his comrade, "Let's do it—let's break the law!" After all, since they've come so far as to desert the army and become illegal immigrants, they might as well go all out and become full-fledged outlaws if that's the only way they can achieve their dream of prosperity. ("I want to live before I die!")

It's signficant that there's implicit criticism of both the Russian and British economic systems: one isn't "good" and the other "bad" (though you do get the sense that the Russian system is the worse of the two), but rather both of them seem to encourage criminality of one sort or another. Most who play by the rules are beaten down and demoralized. The narrator's late father served in Russia's war in Afghanistan, and his mother barely survives on a meager widow's pension and grindingly hard work. The piecemeal construction jobs that the protagonists find in London are similarly dead-end and backbreaking. So it's only natural that men "trained to fight" would turn to crime. "What do you expect from us?—" Neil sings bitterly (parodying a common attitude among westerners), "—we come from abroad." Notably, the Boys don't appear to be making any moral judgments about these characters; in the words of the song itself, they simply "tell it like it is," describing the situation and then leaving it up to us to draw our own conclusions.

This, by the way, is the only track on Release that wasn't produced by the Pet Shop Boys and recorded at their own studio; rather, it was recorded in Berlin and produced by Chris Zippel, who also served as engineer, keyboardist, and co-writer (he wrote the verse melody; the Boys wrote everything else). It was originally slated as the third single from the album—and was in fact released as a single in Germany—but plans for any third single, at least in the Boys' native land, were ultimately shelved. (Their U.K. record company, EMI, was reportedly nervous about the line "Let's break the law!" appearing in a PSB single.)

And one other thing: who would have thought that the harsh sound of a circular saw—appropriate enough given the song's reference to a "building site"—could be used to such a pleasingly musical effect?

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