We're the Pet Shop BoysWe're the Pet Shop Boys

Writers - Howard Rigberg
First released - 2003 (PSB); 2006 (Robbie Williams/PSB)
Original album - Format (PSB); Rudebox (Robbie Williams)
Producer (PSB version) - Chris Zippel, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Release 2017 reissue Further Listening 2001-2004 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "Miracles" (PSB); single (US Dance #5) (Robbie Williams/PSB)

This song was originally written and recorded in 2002 by the New York-based one-man band Howard Rigberg, aka Howard Robot, aka My Robot Friend—a professed fan who has noted that it was inspired by hearing a certain pre-set sound on one of his keyboards that reminded him of early Pet Shop Boys records. (His original version of the song, which features Miguel Gutierrez on lead vocals, was subsequently released on his 2004 debut album Hot Action!) With a stylistic nod to those first PSB tracks, My Robot Friend wove a sad, wistful tale of lost love in which the narrator thinks back to a time in the mid-eighties when he would apparently imagine himself and his former lover as the Pet Shop Boys:

I know what you will say before you start
In my heart we're the Pet Shop Boys

A couple of familiar song titles—"Suburbia," "It's a Sin"—pop up in the main body of the lyrics. It was something of a cliché in the early days of the Pet Shop Boys' fame for writers to comment on their "melancholy." This song dives headlong into that melancholia, the narrator tormenting himself with nostalgic musings on happier times that somehow seem perhaps not as happy as he remembers them.

But as fascinating as all this is, even more fascinating is the fact that the following year Chris and Neil chose to cover and release this homage themselves, recording the basic track in Berlin with Chris Zippel. The press release for the "Miracles" single (for which "We're the Pet Shop Boys" serves as a bonus track) includes Neil's explanation for this surprising decision: "It sums us up."

An especially nice touch comes late in the song. Although in the original version My Robot Friend did a passable imitation of Neil in a faux "Brit rap" composed exclusively of even more PSB song titles—which together actually manage to comprise something of a shorthand narrative sequence—Chris takes over most of this portion of the vocal in the Boys' rendition. Not surprisingly, his voice is heavily distorted using a vocoder or some similar device. Neil chimes in, however, with "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this."

It has recently come to light that the key synth motif that opens the track is identical to one appearing online in a Yamaha synthesizer demo mp3. Unfortunately, I don't know anything more about this remarkable fact—whether, for instance, the original was composed by Howard Robot so that he and the Boys are simply "re-appropriating" his own creation; whether it was a sample used with permission; or whether (heaven forbid) the Boys have, probably unintentionally, done a bad deed.

When the Boys performed this song on some of the dates of their Fundamental tour, Neil would occasionally sing the chorus in the language of the "host country." So it became, for instance, "Wir sind die Pet Shop Boys" in Germany and "Nous sommes les Pet Shop Boys" in France.

Interestingly, Robbie Williams also covered this song on his 2006 album Rudebox with Neil and Chris serving as producers and performing along with him—both of them providing support vocals! This collaborative rendition was remixed and released as a promo dance single in the United States, where it twice proved successful as a club-play hit: first under its own title and again shortly afterward in a drastically altered form, retitled "Close My Eyes" by remixer Sander van Doorn.



Officially released

PSB rendition

Robbie Williams/PSB rendition

List cross-references