Writers - Tennant/Lowe/Powell
First released - 2010
Original album - Ultimate
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Tim Powell
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - single (UK #58)
The virtually obligatory previously unreleased track for a hits collection like Ultimate and, predictably, a single. Unfortunately, it reached only #58 on the U.K. singles chart, proving to be the first full-fledged PSB single to fail to crack the U.K. Top 40 since the first version of "Opportunities" back in July 1985. (The quasi-single "Integral" doesn't count.) This may not, however, be a reflection on the quality of the single, but rather on its marketing strategy. It wasn't released until nearly a full month after Ultimate, meaning that most PSB fans, both dedicated and more casual, already had the track in their possession well before the single's release. In other words, "Together" ended up serving more as a lure to album-buyers than as a commercial "single product" in and of itself.
As for the song itself, let me come right out and say that I cannot take credit for much of what I'm about to write. I'm indebted to others who came up with some of these insights first. "Together" is a deceptively complex song—deceptive in that it's far more complex than it seems on first hearing. It appears to sport at least four distinct layers of meaning that overlap and inform each other in remarkably rich ways. This in and of itself is by no means unusual since Neil often writes lyrics that lend themselves to multiple meanings; it's only unusual in this case in that there seem to be so many levels at work here.
Before we look at those layers of meaning, let's first consider things that aren't so subject to debate. Neil and Chris wrote and recorded "Together" in early September 2010 and were, by their own admission, quite excited about it. They composed and produced it in collaboration with former Xenomania cohort Tim Powell, with whom they had worked while writing and recording Yes.
The track has a fascinating genesis. The Boys had heard a Portuguese folk song ("As Sete Mulheres Do Minho," meaning "The Seven Women [or Wives] of Minho") that they liked and thought they might be able to adapt for their own musical purposes. After working on it for a while, however, they decided that it simply wasn't working. So they scrapped everything except the bass line, which they felt still had potential. "Together" grew out of that bass line. Surprisingly, the song's in 3/4 time, which technically makes it a waltz. Chris himself has described it as such, though Johann Strauss would never have composed a waltz like this. (As the webmaster of the Popjustice website noted, it's a bit of a "stomper.") As it so happens, its waltz beat was influenced by both the song's folk roots and the fact that Neil and Chris had only recently been writing waltzes for their ballet, The Most Incredible Thing.
Now we come to those layers of meaning. First there's the most obvious interpretation, with the narrator describing his romantic attachment to the person to whom he's ostensibly singing. In fact, it sounds like much more than just romance is being described here. The lyric's references to life-and-death devotion—together forever, come what may, mortality included—are appropriate for one's life partner: husband, wife, spouse, domestic partner, whatever terminology is most fitting for one's particular situation and orientation. Certain lyrics grant particular credence to this reading:
Everything I have is yours
I pray you understand me….
Feel the look beside us
And so much love inside us
Neil suggested (in the December 2010 issue of the PSB Fan Club magazine Literally) that the narrator and his partner might be teenagers about to have sex for the very first time, viewing the experience with the intense idealistic romanticism of youth. The narrator has every intention of spending the rest of his life with this "very significant other." The handcuff graphic imagery used on the cover of the single release—which was Chris's idea—would therefore seem to serve as ironic commentary, apparently making light of the song's underlying seriousness, perhaps even on account of that idealism.
But then there's a second level of meaning, which extends that romantic attachment to a darker plane. One commentator has described the song as a "dance of death"—or to use the German term, a Totentanz—in which the narrator exhibits an unhealthy "joined-at-the-hip," stalking-like obsession with his partner. If that's the case, the sleeve's handcuff imagery may not be so ironic after all.
A possible third layer takes this dark element still further. Some fans have speculated online that the lyrics might be stating, in effect, a suicide pact. I strongly resisted this interpretation at first, but the more I considered it, the more it made sense. Could the recurring line "Together we'll go all the way" be a reference to death—and not eventual death in the distant future, but sometime very soon? There are indeed some fatalistic, rather chilling bits that indicate the narrator may be unusually concerned with finality: "Time is short, the die is cast" and especially "The world starts to fade as we leave it behind." Yet this doesn't weigh heavily on him. On the contrary, another line ("Everything's easy in this state of mind") suggests a measure of peace, perhaps even relief, coming from the realization of things—everything—drawing to a close.
(A sidenote: The British press reported in late September 2010 a bizarre and troubling case of a real-life suicide pact in which a man and woman, both distraught and desperate to end it all, connected online and decided to assist each other in their final fatal act, lending each other support to do what they felt they could not do alone. So these two former strangers became, in effect, united in death. Some online fans speculated that Neil have been inspired by this news story to write his lyrics from the perspective of one of these sad people. But that seems extremely unlikely since the Boys reported the song's completion in early September, before this unfortunate event occurred.)
Not to end things on such a bleak note, I mustn't neglect that important fourth level of meaning. As Popjustice quite correctly observed—and as the Boys themselves have acknowledged—the chorus in particular lends itself to a reading that may refer to the musical partnership of Chris and Neil themselves:
Together we're blazing
Together we'll go all the way
After nearly thirty years together as a songwriting team, and a quarter-century as a hitmaking recording duo—which was, after all, the stated reason for the release of Ultimate—there's no doubt that Tennant and Lowe are in it together for the long haul. They will almost certainly be a songwriting team for as long as they both shall live. Yet, in light of the song's darker elements (and as in the case of "Legacy," the concluding track on the previous album Yes), it's enough to make one wonder whether Chris and Neil may be seriously contemplating retirement. Fortunately, in the wake of "Together" the Boys adamantly denied that any such closure is in the works.
If all of these different interpretations seem a bit much, then let's give Neil the final word on it. As he states in the aforementioned issue of Literally, "I think it could be anything about two people."
- "… the die is cast" – Die here is the singular form of the plural word dice. "The die is cast" is an metaphorical expression referring to dice-based games of chance, simply meaning that a decision has already been made or an event has already occurred, the consequences of which are now unavoidable. In short, what's done is done. The ancient Roman historian Suetonius attributed it (in Latin: "Alea iacta est") to Julius Ceasar in reference to his fateful and irrevocable step of crossing the Rubicon River with his army and advancing on Rome, thereby triggering civil war. The earliest known written record of this phrase in English dates back to the mid-1600s.
Remarkably, "the die is cast" can have the same meaning but with a completely different origin. The word die can also refer to a mold into which molten metal is poured in order to cast an object. Such dies are very often themselves cast in this manner. Thus, if a die has been cast, it's "done" in such a way that, if it's badly flawed, there's no fixing it short of melting it down and starting again from scratch. Once more, the meaning is that what's done is done.
- Mixer: Jeremy Wheatley
- Single/album version, aka "The Ultimate Mix" (3:31)
- Radio Mix (3:31)
- This mix is apparently extremely similar to the single/album "Ultimate Mix," with the difference summarized by the Pet Shop Boys themselves (via Twitter) as follows: "The keyboard riff is less aggressive."
- Instrumental (3:31)
- The instrumental is not part of the "general-release single package," so to speak, but instead appears on a Parlophone promo CD.
- Mixer: Tim Powell
- Extended Mix (6:55)
- Pepptalk Mix (6:43)
- Mixer: Ultrabeat
- Ultrabeat Mix (3:37)
- Extended Ultrabeat Mix (5:21)
- Unlike the "standard" Ultrabeat Mix, the Extended Ultrabeat Mix is apparently not part of the general-release single package, but instead appears on a Parlophone promo CD.
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