Legacy

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2009
Original album - Yes
Producer - Brian Higgins, Xenomania
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The longest track on Yes, serving as a "grand finale" with orchestral arrangements again by Owen Pallett. It starts off with Neil singing, "That's it—the end," a line borrowed from Tony Blair's final address to the House of Commons as Prime Minister. Truly ominous words, especially for the album's final track, the title of which was inspired by Blair having at times publicly talked about his "legacy" as Prime Minister.

With this song the Boys were intentionally trying to write an unusual melody with unconventional intervals: very "non-pop" in many ways. In fact, Neil has confessed that he had a good deal of trouble singing the melody that Chris had composed, so different it is from their usual fare. In keeping with the innovative music, Neil wrote one of his most challenging lyrics, some segments of which border on the impenetrable.

Lyrically, its primary thrust seems to be the truism that everything must come to an end. As George Harrison famously stated, "All things must pass." It's just in the nature of things. But it's just as natural that we survive. As Neil sings, "You'll get over it, my friend." That, in fact, is the song's recurring refrain: "You'll get over it… you'll get over it." Just as the music is of an experimental nature, so too are the lyrics. Neil has characterized them as jumping around historically and geographically—including relatively obscure references to the "Pilgrimage of Grace" uprising in northern England in 1536 against the government of Henry VIII and the early eighteenth-century Jacobite revolts—with no obvious connections among them aside from the theme of the inevitable end of all things and the continuing need to move on. (In passing, it's very telling that Neil, with his Catholic upbringing, would pick these two specific historical events, both of which were rooted in Catholic opposition to the crown's conversion of England to Protestantism.)

At the time of its release, many fans feared that this song might be Chris and Neil's way of preparing us for the impending end of the Pet Shop Boys. We know now, of course, that wasn't the case. But, at the same time, this song reminds us of that inevitable eventuality, be it a couple years from now or a couple decades. Whatever the case, we can always take continued pleasure in their recorded legacy. Again, as Neil sings, "You'll get over it—and what a ride it was." By definition, legacy is what endures when other things have passed away.

(It's been suggested, by the way, that "Legacy" may be an effort by the Boys to console themselves and others over the sudden death of their friend Dainton "The Bear" Connell in an October 2007 traffic accident. But I don't subscribe to that theory myself. "You'll get over it" is one of the most callous, cruel things you can say to a grieving person, and I don't think Neil would sing that over and over again if this song were indeed strongly related to Dainton's death.)

As an aside, Neil has noted that this song has the distinction of Chris contributing to the lyrics—just a few words ("Police expect an arrest"), but that's apparently more than he usually offers lyrically. And I can't help but feel that the Boys may be slyly alluding to their own experience when Neil sings:

Public opinion may not be on your side
There are those who think they've been taken for a ride

If that's the case, then we all can take a good deal of satisfaction in the fact that time has vindicated them (as if they ever truly needed "vindication"). What Neil is primarily alluding to with these words, however, is that much (if not most) of the British public—themselves included—had been sorely disillusioned by Blair's administration as Prime Minister.

But, in the end, what is "Legacy" really about? I could offer my own interpretation, focusing on that opening Tony Blair quote and how Neil sings that he's "SO over it" (his emphasis). I can do no better, however, than to quote Mr. Tennant himself. Neil has said that it's:

…about guilt. How time doesn't erase it. How a mistake goes on being repeated. How a wrong may be forgiven but not forgotten. How a past tragedy still haunts us.… You can attempt to explain it away, but controversy survives. You always come back down to earth with a bump.

To put it another way, it's about the ongoing legacy of what we do—and how we have to live with it. We may be able to "get over it," but it endures nonetheless. "The past," Neil has also said in discussing this song, "is always there to haunt you, whether you like it or not." (The great American author William Faulkner expressed a similar view when he wrote in his 1951 novel Requiem for a Nun, "The past is never dead. It's not even past.") Neil has noted, in fact, that many of the events alluded to in the lyric—including Tony Blair's departure—involved people being, in effect, "sent into exile" as a result of their actions.

Neil is justifiably quite proud of the lyrics of "Legacy," which he regards as one of his "personal favourites" among PSB songs. He "put a lot of thought into this lyric," which is replete with metaphors and historical analogies. As Neil has said:

The tragic style of the song is heavy with the blame for the chaos following the Iraq War and the resulting disillusionment with Blair…. Blair's exile is compared in the song to the exiled Stuart pretender, James III…. The narrator in the song (maybe Peter Mandelson) is consoling the departing Blair with images of loyalty from British history…. [and] that he'll "get over" his loss of power and popularity and maybe the public will forgive him ("The bourgeoisie will get over it"), but the atmosphere of the song seems to suggest that this is going to take a long time to happen, if ever.

Some of these "images of loyalty" as well as other historical and cultural references are summarized in my "Annotations" below.

On an altogether separate note, "Legacy" has earned the distinction of having been censored by the Chinese government. On the edition of Yes released in China, the track appears only as an instrumental. Apparently the lyrics concerning the fall of governments and resentments between East and West were just a bit too much.

Annotations

Mixes/Versions

Officially released

List cross-references