20
Feb 03

PET SHOP BOYS – “Kings Cross”

FT + New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 2,189 views

“I’ve been guilty of hanging around.” Yeah, me too: the last month or so I’ve turned my life into a lobby, never writing, neglecting everything except eating and sleeping, coming to life three or four times a week when I go out and spending the rest of the time in limbo, self-effaced, a few mouse-clicking kelvin of effort at most above absolute comatose zero. It sounds miserable but it isn’t exactly: I sometimes think I was made to hibernate and evolution played a trick on me.

Emerging from this trough of inertia is a slow process, step by tiny step, nothing too ambitious. I should write about what I know, and I know this band and this song very well indeed. Except it sounds different now. The Pet Shop Boys built this track around foggy, overlapping washes of synth, so the melody seems indistinct – so does the meaning, with Tennant drifting and lost in Kings’ Cross, but a Kings’ Cross stricken by some terrible and unknown disaster. A dream? A premonition? (In the sleevenotes of the Actually re-release, Tennant talks about The Sun newspaper urging him to release the track as a charity single, after the station was hit by fire in late 1987. It would have been the creepiest charity single in history, a great ‘if only’).

One of the beauties of pop music is how concrete it is – in its hummability, its simple physical impact – and how abstract it is too. Vagueness breeds relevance, and the heavy, cloudy verse-fragments and disjointed sounds of “Kings Cross” have always seemed to me like glimpses of some more profound London vision, transmitted from one subconscious to another and waxing back into one’s front-brain as the time’s demand it. In the late 1980s, the track seemed like a nebulous spectre at the yuppie feast, expressing a deep unease underlying its parent album’s more obvious satires and celebrations. The Pet Shop Boys at this point are dated in the best way – their cold, grand, synthetic pop is a time-machine which brings an era sharply back without the swaddling of nostalgia: they sound like Canary Wharf looks.

But now “Kings Cross” has different associations, ones I hardly need to spell out. “Dead and wounded on every side / You know it’s only a matter of time”. The peace march last Saturday wound past the office blocks of the Euston Road before it headed into Old London proper. And whenever I imagine – waking or sleeping – a disaster, or an attack, it’s always in those sort of places: comfortless, anonymous, compromised spaces. It’s not that I’m scared for myself (and also I know that vague unease is a luxury denied to the regular commuters through Kings-Cross-Equivalent, Baghdad) but I keep worrying at the song anyway, because its mood of queasy, doomed inertia chimes with my own this February. The truth is, I’ve been displacing my war-fear – into circular online arguments, into Playstation escapism, into songs like this one. When Neil Tennant sings about hanging around there’s an awful weariness in his voice, and a hint of something like dread.

Comments

  1. 1
    Anony Mouse on 22 Feb 2009 #

    Utter bollocks.

    It’s none of the above – it’s a simple theme about a place in london, brought to mind by a trip there with friends.

    What an egotistical wanker!

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