Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fundamental Issues

When Pet Shop Boys Fundamental was first released I linked to Tremble Clef's remarkable multi-part breakdown of the thematic lyrical and musical elements of the of the album. I have not seen anything else that reached that level of insight anywhere else so I was intrigued when I saw a wikipedia entry on "Numb" reference a review that contains similar ideas. The review was written by Anton Marshall and is published on, which a google search reveals as "the online arm of the South African newspaper group Naspers". The striking thing is how much of the review echoes one particular Tremble Clef post and you can't help but wonder why that is. Here is a collection of citations from the two articles and for the interest of clarity the review quotes will be in blue and those taken from Tremble Clef are in green. All italics are mine:

Pet Shop Boys have always delivered personal and social experience as a narrative to their material, but Fundamental is a more political album than usual thematically, discussing not just the typical "evils" of politics, but actually where politics pervade the personal.

It's not, to put it most bluntly, simply a record filled with platitudes how politicians are evil, or that we just need to get along. However, the politicization of the personal does occur in more intriguing ways across the album as a whole. Since the theme of
Fundamental, we keep getting told, is "politics today," we can't help but regard many of the other songs in that light, even when they don't appear immediately to be so.

Some obvious examples are "Indefinite Leave to Remain", which clearly reflects on immigration laws' prejudice towards gay partners; and "Psychological", which talks cleverly about a living in a society submerged in fear.

To begin with, much of the album's political targets are at least somewhat novel: an amazing song about ID cards ("Integral"), one about love and nationality, and specifically how immigration laws often disadvantage gay couples ("Indefinite Leave To Remain"), and most pervasively, about the culture of fear ("Luna Park," "Psychological").

Even a Diane Warren contribution, "Numb", can be heard as a comment on human reactions to the climate of terror-attacks and anxieties.

This happens most obviously with the dramatic orchestral ballad "Numb." Composed by Diane Warren (a revelation that I admit I was appalled by), the song first comes across as a straightforward song of heartbreak. (It would have seemed even more so had it appeared, as was the original plan, on PopArt.) But in the context of the new album, its opening lines -- "Don't wanna hear the news/What's going on, what's coming through/I don't wanna know" -- reminds us that it's now a song about the desire or even need to zombify oneself as a way of coping with a world gone mad.

: To paraphrase Kayne West, I'm not saying that Marshall is a plagiarist, but I don't see how this much similarity could be coincidence.


Brittle said...

Thanks for pointing this out. Yeah, I do think that there are some ideas in there swiped from my Fundamental review.

The last Marshall point you isolated -- the idea that "Numb" is not just a love song or song of bereeavemnet, but also a reaction to the political climate -- in some ways is the most clearcut, since I do seem to have been one of the first people online to point out this idea. (Wayne at PSB Commentary acknowledges this, for example.)

But, funnily enough, it's actually the other two Marshall points that makes me a bit more convinced about the borrowing. "Funny," because these two ideas are more "common" and less distinctly mine, but the way they are elaborated on in the piece makes me suspicious. Thus, Marshall's first point -- that the personal gets politicized on Fundamental -- is a more common idea (if not about Fundamental, then in general), even a cliche. But there is something about the structure of his logic that is quite close to mine. He basically says: Fundamental is political...but not about the evils of politics...but shows how the political infects the personal. The development of that thought is what seems to me quite indebted to my blog -- it's sequenced the same way. A similar thing might be said about Marshall's point 2; again, even though the readings themselves ("Indefinite Leave" is about immigration rights, "Psychological" is about the culture of fear) are not necessarily unique and have been expressed by other people, the sequencing of the idea and supporting examples he uses is again strikingly similar to mine.

J'ason D'luv said...

DM, did you go see their show in San Fran?

xolondon said...

Don't fuck with La Lemon right? Good detective work!