Single (aka Single-Bilingual)

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1996
Original album - Bilingual
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - PopArt, Smash
Other releases - single (UK #14)

In contrast to "Discoteca," the extremely serious track that precedes it on Bilingual, "Single" is meant to be funny. One can hardly hope for a better or more succinct explication of this song than the one that Neil has himself provided: "The narrator is a very glib Euro businessman, a glib Eurocrat who flies business class and likes all his privileges. He tries to pick up chicks at meet 'n' greets. He's pretending to be a sophisticated ladies man: 'Single! Bilingual!'. But he's not really communicating either and he knows it. In actual fact he's a hopeless, tragic wreck."

The reference in the lyric to "UK PLC" has proven confusing to many. In the U.K., "PLC" stands for "Public Limited Company"—that is, a public company limited by shares which may offer those shares for purchase by the general public. "UK PLC" is apparently a term commonly used by British financial analysts to denote a "generic" U.K. corporation. So the song isn't referring to a specific organization by that name. Neil's character is simply describing himself a figure within this generic company, presenting himself as important but actually, as one of my site visitors has put it, "an entirely insignificant cog inside a relentless machine." It might also be a satirical jab at the Boys' homeland itself, suggesting that the entire nation has become a PLC in the new economic order of things. In fact, it seems that the British press has itself used "UK PLC" in precisely that manner, describing the United Kingdom as a humongous corporation.

More than one commentator has cited a strong rhythmic similarity between this track and the 1993 Latin hit "El Matador" by the Argentine group Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. One fan even asked the Boys on the official website (back when they used to respond to fan questions there) whether they had heard this song and if it had influenced "Single." Neil replied that they were indeed familiar with "El Matador," having heard it repeatedly during the South American leg of their "DiscoVery" tour, but said nothing more about it. Personally I fail to find much of a resemblance between the two songs, but enough others have heard one that it's probably worth noting here. But whatever the case, rhythm alone is hardly copyrightable. (At least one writer-critic has claimed that "Single" samples "El Matador," though I find that to be a questionable assertion. It could be one of many instances I've found of people misusing the term "sample," not fully understanding what it actually entails. Besides, the same online article misidentifies a photo of Neil Tennant as one of "Chris Lowe," which makes me disinclined to take it very seriously.)

The only thing I might add is that, when this song was released as the album's third single, it was retitled "Single-Bilingual" to distinguish it from another song in current release also titled "Single." And it was by that "expanded" title that it would resurface in 2003 on the Boys' PopArt compilation.



Officially released

List cross-references