Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2002
Original album - Format
Producer - David Morales, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Nightlife 2017 reissue Further Listening 1996-2000 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "Home and Dry"; bonus disc with the U.S. "special edition" of Release

Early in its development, when the Boys' musical Closer to Heaven was tentatively titled Nightlife, this ditty was intended not only as the title song but also as its closing number. As it turned out, of course, the musical was renamed and the Boys decided to title their 1999 album Nightlife without even bothering to include the song itself. (It's certainly not the first time that a band had set aside an album's would-be title track; for instance, there's Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy," which was omitted from the album of that name, though it did appear on their next album, Physical Graffiti.) They subsequently placed it on the "Home and Dry" DVD single as a bonus track.

Stylistically, this track harkens in many ways back to the disco-era Bee Gees, right down to the falsetto vocals (multi-tracked by Neil), though it's not as bass-heavy as those classics. (Rather, "Nightlife" comes across as downright airy.) Even thematically it bears a marked similarity to "Night Fever" and "Stayin' Alive": "Nightlife, babe, it's always the same—living the life every night.… looking for light every night." Just like those classic Bee Gees tunes, "Nightlife" implicitly both celebrates and criticizes the partying lifestyle it attempts to describe. That is, while it asserts the emptiness, repetitiveness, and dissatisfaction bred by nightlife, it also makes no bones about how vital and doggone pleasurable it can be. After all, if it weren't so damn enjoyable, why would anybody put up with it?

In light of these pronounced Bee Gees influences, it came as only mildly surprising when Neil revealed (in the interview that appears in the Format booklet) that he and Chris had asked the Brothers Gibb to provide backing vocals for this track. However, the Boys received no reply.

The lyrics as printed on the Pet Shop Boys' official website reveal something quite intriguing about the chorus, reproduced here verbatim:

Nightlife, babe, it's always the same
Living the life every night
Night life, babe, it's always the same
Looking for light every night

Note how "Nightlife" is spelled as a single compound word the first time it appears, but as two separate words, "Night life," the second time. This isn't a mere typo because it appears exactly the same way all four times the chorus occurs in the lyrics. This strongly suggests an intentional distinction in meaning—but what is it? A clue may be in the subsequent lines. After "Nightlife" the single word, we hear "Living the life every night," which is almost certainly meant to be either a description or a definition of "Nightlife." But after "Night life" the two words, we hear "Looking for light every night." Could this be meant as a distinction between "what" and "why"? In other words, people who live the nightlife are looking for light—that is, metaphorical illumination, almost certainly with regard to the meaning and purpose of their lives. That much, however, seems obvious from the lyrics, regardless how "Nightlife" is spelled.

Nevertheless, the significance of the "Nightlife"/"Night life" distinction—and I assume that there must be a true significance—long escaped me. But then, well over a decade after this song first appeared, one of my site visitors wrote to me to offer this astute observation, which I believe is well worth quoting at length (only slightly edited for clarification):

I think Neil is making a distinction between the private and the public: "nightlife" [one word] is a collective term for entertainment occuring late at night and on into the early hours of the morning: bars, clubs, discos, etc. It has a particularly gay spin to it on this song, in my opinion; hence “it's always the same…every night”—the same sorts of characters popping up the bars in all the bars and discos, eyeing up the talent. In the second part of the chorus, "night life" [two words] might refer to the narrator’s personal life at night. Those alternate uses of “Looking for light every night” and “Living the life every night” in the second line of the four-line chorus suggest a blurring of the personal with the more general observation of what this "nightlife" is all about: bar-hopping as a repetitive routine in the search for love and The One. In addition, I like the fourth line in the third chorus—“Leaving the lie every night”—which suggests the narrator is a rather closeted figure in his "day life."

– Nigel Brand

I believe Nigel hit the proverbial nail on the head—so well, in fact, that I'm rather dismayed I didn't think of it first. wink



Officially released

Official but unreleased

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