Love Is a Bourgeois Construct

Writers - Nyman/Tennant/Lowe/Purcell
First released - 2013
Original album - Electric
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - Inner Sanctum, Smash
Other releases - single (UK #105, US Dance #38)

A March 20, 2013 posting on Facebook, accompanied by an evidentiary photograph, indicated that Chris and Neil had met earlier that day with British composer Michael Nyman, best known for his many film scores. He shares with the Pet Shop Boys the fact that both had composed their own scores for Battleship Potemkin: PSB in 2005 and Nyman in 2012. And he noted that the Boys had written a new song titled "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" based in part on the track "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds" from Nyman's score for the 1982 film The Draughtsman's Contract. (Nyman referred to it as an upcoming single, which turned out to be correct. It would be released as such in September 2013.) Interestingly, since "Chasing Sheep…" is itself based on an earlier work—namely a melodic theme from the Prelude to Act III, Scene 2 of English composer Henry Purcell’s 1691 opera King Arthur—and (as Neil has noted) the track's intro was played from the Purcell sheet music, it's Purcell, not Nyman, who earned the co-writing credit for the song on the album packaging. But, perhaps as something of a compromise, Nyman received the credit instead of Purcell on the single. (Hence I've credited both of them above.)

Neil has also said (in an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia) that this song was inspired by a novel by the British author David Lodge. He was referring to Nice Work (1988), which, like much of Lodge's other writings, satirizes academia (among other things). The narrative persona of the song is much like one of its principal characters, at least with regard to their attitudes and expressions, as revealed in this specific passage from the novel—a conversation between the protagonist and a feminist university professor with whom he has fallen in love:

"I love you," he says…. "I've been in love with you for weeks."
"There's no such thing," she says. "It's a rhetorical device. It's a bourgeois fallacy."
"Haven't you ever been in love, then?"
"When I was younger," she says, "I allowed myself to be constructed by the discourse of romantic love for a while, yes."

As Neil told Idolator interviewer Robbie Daw, he drew inspiration from this passage for the "story" of the song, which concerns a man who has led "a very respectable bourgeois life," but whose wife has just left him. "He’s seen where it’s got him, … so he’s going to give up the bourgeois life and lie around and be lazy and read and not try hard anymore."

This is the longest track on Electric, clocking in at a little more than six-and-a-half minutes. Musically, the song is very much in the semi-epic mode of such past favorites as "Go West," "A Red Letter Day," and "Delusions of Grandeur," with that mood derived largely from the fanfare-like components and chord structure drawn from the Nyman/Purcell work. It opens like something the circa 1969 Moody Blues might have produced if they'd been transported forty-some years into the future and commissioned to compose a Saturday night disco anthem. The lyrics are rather tongue-in-cheek (accentuated by that music), with Neil assuming his occasional mantle of "unreliable narrator," whose words shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value except perhaps as a negative commentary on the character's personality and viewpoint. Neil has even specifically pointed out that we shouldn't assume from the title of the song that he agrees with its philosophy.

That narrator is terribly bitter about a recent relationship, so much so that he strikes a distinct note of sour grapes:

When you walked out you did me a favor
It's absolutely clear to me
That love is a bourgeois construct
Just like they said at university

The narrator continues, "I've given up the bourgeoisie," having decided now to coast along with little or no further ambitions in life: "I'll just get along with what I've got." If nothing else, there's time for relaxation and contemplation:

Now I'm digging through my student paperbacks
Flicking through Karl Marx again
Searching for the soul of England
Drinking tea like Tony Benn

Now, one might wonder what disappointment in love has to do with rejecting the bourgeoisie. More to the point, in what way, precisely, is love a "bourgeois construct"? Karl Marx argued that a bourgeois patriarch, in order to be able to clearly identify his heir(s) so that his accumulated wealth might be passed on to the "right" persons, required the sort of monogamous relationship with which love is traditionally associated. In other words, love helps perpetuate the class system. It is therefore in the interests of the bourgeois middle class to encourage love. But the narrator, his lover having walked out on him—possibly even feeling that he has lost his ability to pass on wealth to his heirs—is now so embittered with love that he has decided to "go whole hog," so to speak, and reject what Marxists would regard as its capitalistic socio-economic underpinnings.

Toward the end, however (spoiler alert), Neil employs a clever old lyricist's trick of using a single line to subvert nearly everything previously stated in the song: "I've given up the bourgeoisie / Until you come back to me" (my emphasis). In other words, all that stuff about love being a bourgeois construct will get tossed out the window if love only reasserts itself once again.



Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references