Silver Age

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999
Original album - Format
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Nightlife 2017 reissue Further Listening 1996-2000 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More"; bonus disc with the U.S. "special edition" of Nightlife

A slow, ponderous track—a bonus on the "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More" single—that nevertheless has a lot going for it: a gorgeous melody, an adventurous production, and one of Neil's more impressionistic lyrics. Without any background information from its author, it's hard to make out what this song is "about" except that it seems to harken back an earlier time, the "silver age" of the title, mainly to suggest that it may not have been such a silver age after all, but rather a "silver rage." The music supports this, its plodding rhythm and often metallic sound strongly suggesting the "Industrial Age" of great, powerful steam-driven machines.

Neil has unequivocally stated, however (in the July 1999 issue of Literally), that this is one of his "Russian songs." As he puts it, "The Silver Age is the period in Russia before the First World War…. A period of optimism." Yet the song's pervasive air of foreboding ("earthquakes predicted … a total eclipse of the sun and the moon") hints strongly at the terrible strife that lies just ahead: the war and the Russian Revolution. Later, in the Format booklet interview and even more specifically in One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem, Neil pointed to "July 1914," a poem by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, as an inspiration for this song. Neil went on to describe the song as "a series of snapshots of St. Petersburg at the end of the Tsarist era…."

But such an understanding is hardly necessary to enjoy this track, which seems to strive more for mood than for meaning. It does so quite effectively: it has reams of mood. But that's pretty much what impressionism is all about, isn't it?


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