Sunday, September 09, 2007


It's been a long time since I listened to the Pet Shop Boys' recordings of the last decade. I know Fundamental got pretty good reviews when it was released last year. It was seen as a return to form and a pop record ready to tackle Bush, Blair and the state of emergency. But I felt that I'd parted ways with the group years ago so didn't really bother tracking it down with any urgency. About a year ago, Sunil passed on Fundamental and the remixed extras of Fundamentalism (as ever the PSB are great with titles).
I had the usual start-and-skip first few listens to the whole package and was largely underwhelmed.

he PSB sound seemed frozen in the early 90s. I didn't exactly want them to go all glitchy or dubstep or fashionably contemporary just to prove that they're still up with the play (their well-chosen remixers do that anyway) but Trevor Horn's synthetic brass lines and crescendos of strings seemed too bombastic for my new ears. Even the ballads didn't conjure any novel electronic textures for Tennant's still pointed lyrics.

I was a little taken with the muezzin-sounding instrumental 'God Willing' which seemed to promise more but was just a short fragment. It still needs an 'Inshallah' remix by Superpitcher or DJ /Rupture.

Sadly overall the album wasn't chocka with the great melodies and hooks I'd hoped for, despite its ambition to tackle some serious issues. So both Fundamental and Fundamentalism sat on the iPod for months, hardly touched.
But recently I finally had a full listen as I was trying to get to sleep one night. My short attention span has always been more prone to singles, individual tracks, and compilations. The haze of almost-sleep is one of the few contexts in which I listen to an album in sequence--even all the way through sometimes, if I haven't dropped off by then.

The penultimate song 'Indefinite Leave To Remain' struck me both for its topicality vis-à-vis attitudes to immigration, asylum seekers and refugees, and for Tennant's ability to make love with a political song. The music's not that memorable but the track doesn't have too many melodramatic gongs and tempo shifts either.

Tennant has a scholarly interest in history and a cynical romantic streak in his songwriting that's influenced by Kurt Weill, Stephen Sondheim and Tin Pan Alley types. Songs like this one and 'Rent' demonstrate how (erotic) desires are linked to political and economic drives. 'Indefinite Leave To Remain' is also ripe for Zizekian analysis, but I can't be bothered.

As with 'Rent', Tennant gets to the point very quickly. 'Indefinite Leave To Remain'
puts you in the state of anxious suspension of someone at the border or the counter of the immigration service. On the one hand, the lyric seems to imagine a scenario in which the desire for resident citizenship is all about full commitment to the nation, rather than partial attachment. On the other hand, the words could also be pointing to that gap between the desire to be a part of a nation because your loved one is there and wanting to be in a nation because the loved one is that nation.

The song puts some basic questions to me:
Can you love a country like you love a person?
Must full attachment to the nation be presumed as a requirement for a migrant's citizenship?
Is that also an injunction for the locals, natives and nation-born in the same way?
Is it true that if you're born on the soil you don't have to make an oath to Queen and country in order to be classified as a citizen?

I was lost
For so long
Feels like it's taken
Half my life
To find

Where I belong

Seeing you here

You're my nation

This is my application

Give me hope

Keep me sane

Give me
Indefinite leave to remain

All the worlds
That I saw
I went so far away
And still wanted you more

It may sound superficial

But can we make it official?

Give me hope

Keep me sane

Give me

Indefinite leave to remain

Tell me where I stand

What do you envision?

One way or another

Give me your decision now

Is it time

To proceed?

Will you give me a chance

And the status I need?

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