MUSIKMusik

Released - 2019
Chart peak - [not yet charted]

In April 2019 the Pet Shop Boys announced that they had once again collaborated with playwright Jonathan Harvey—with whom they had roughly two decades earlier worked to create the stage musical Closer to Heaven—to develop a new cabaret show titled Musik, scheduled to premiere the following August 5 at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to be followed by a short run in London. In fact, it's a sequel of sorts to Closer to Heaven, presenting a one-woman performance by singer-actress Frances Barber in the role that she had originated in the earlier musical, the fictional German erstwhile pop star Billie Trix.

Roughly sixty minutes in length, it's built around what the PSB website proclaimed to be "an outrageous book by Jonathan Harvey" and features six Tennant-Lowe songs, including four brand new ones written specially for the show. The two older songs are Billie's big hit in the imaginary world of the musical, "Run Girl Run!" and her best-known number from Closer to Heaven, "Friendly Fire." The songs newly composed for Musik are:

Only these four songs are covered below; for the two older ones, please see my Closer to Heaven page. All six songs were released on August 6, 2019 on what the official PSB website describes as an "EP," though so far there has been no physical release; the songs are available only as digital downloads and via streaming services.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ms. Barber succinctly described the show's organization and its songs, noting that they reflect Billie's "music through the decades." She continued, "It starts off a bit Lotte Lenya ["Mongrel"], then she leaves Berlin for New York and there’s a song about Andy Warhol’s Factory ["Soup"], a Vietnam protest song ["Run Girl Run!"], a disco anthem ["Ich bin Musik"], a torch song ["Friendly Fire"], and we end with an uplifting, lighters-in-the-air number ["For Every Moment"]."


Mongrel
 by Frances Barber and Pet Shop Boys

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2019
Original album - Musik (digital EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The opening number of Musik concerns Billie's early life, and it's (in Frances Barber's words) "a bit Lotte Lenya"—referring, both thematically and stylistically, to the sort of legendary "Weimar Republic decadence" in which the equally legendary Miss Lenya thrived as a singer and actress. Ms. Barber, in the role of Billie, sings in a pronounced German accent of how she never knew her father, apparently a Russian soldier who had raped his mother in 1945 Berlin. Her mother, in turn, considered her a "curse." She therefore describes herself in thoroughly unflattering terms:

Me, the little mongrel
Born at the edge of hell

But her rough life growing up with an absent father and unloving mother made her strong: "Times were tough but I was tougher." So she takes grudging pride in her status as a self-proclaimed "bastard." In effect, it played a major role in making her what she is today.

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Soup
 by Frances Barber and Pet Shop Boys

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released -2019
Original album - Musik (digital EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This song deals with Billie's involvement in New York City with Andy Warhol—fictional, of course. The title no doubt is inspired by Andy Warhol's famed pop-art paintings of cans of soup. Yet it's not pop art that Billie focuses on here. Rather, it's the fact that, for a starving artist, soup can offer the inexpensive difference between life and death:

If you're feeling hungry, alone, and angry
Heat up a little can of soup
It won't let you down

Aside from that chorus, much of the lyric simply lists different types of soup, including chicken noodle, minestrone, cream of mushroom, clam chowder, split pea, and cream of tomato, among others. Toward the end, however, Billie goes so far as to suggest obliquely that Warhol's famous soup-can painting arose from a dearth of ideas as to anything else to paint—a brazen but quite amusing conceit.

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Ich bin Musik
 by Frances Barber and Pet Shop Boys

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2019
Original album - Musik (digital EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Meant in the context of the show to have been recorded by Billie Trix in 1978, during the height of the disco era, this upbeat number is very much in that style, especially when the synth-horns kick in during the second half. (As Neil has explained, "We’ve written songs that help to tell her story… that she recorded at the time," adding, "It’s fun to write in different styles.") On first hearing, its lyrics seem reminiscent of Barry Manilow's big 1975 hit "I Write the Songs" (written by then-former-but-later-again Beach Boy Bruce Johnston), almost as if Billie were adopting the persona of Music itself. That wouldn't be surprising in a song with a title that translates as "I Am Music." But, as it soon becomes clear, she's not actually singing from the perspective of a personified Music but instead is suggesting that music is so much a part of her life that she completely embodies it. In effect, music posseses her.

The chorus includes the lines—

I am music
Music is me
It's all that I live for
It's setting me free

A few lines later, the chorus concludes:

Ich bin Musik
Taxi zum Klo

This is extremely curious considering that Taxi zum Klo ("Taxi to the loo" or "Taxi to the john") is the title of a notorious but well-received 1981 German gay cult film about a Berlin school teacher's sexually promiscuous nightlife. What's the connection—if any and it's not just an outrageous non sequitur? Maybe it's meant to suggest that Billie has become a gay icon at this stage of her career. But I think there's a little more to it than that.

The next verse finds Billie emoting over the transcendent capacity of music, how it lifts her beyond the ordinary; it makes her feel like a "queen," it enables her to "reach for the moon." On the other hand, the recurring line "How low can you go?" indicates that music can also have an effect quite the opposite from being uplifting as it serves as the sountrack to some of the more decadent aspects of the "disco scene" of the late seventies. "Taxi to the john" indeed.

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For Every Moment
 by Frances Barber and Pet Shop Boys

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2019
Original album - Musik (digital EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The final song of Musik has been described by Ms. Barber as "an uplifting, lighters-in-the-air number" (by Ms. Barber) and by Neil as "a surprisingly life-affirming song… in which [Billie] sums up her philosophy of life." The chorus summarizes it quite nicely:

You've got to live your life for every moment
From the shock of arrival
In a new world we share
To the pain of survival
I've always been there

Better still are the first lines of the second verse, which offer succinct advice to those who would draw strength from her example:

You gotta look ahead
Don't fear the future
Bury the past or make it your own

Even more succinctly, it's a matter of establishing your own place in the universe: "Create a world outside your window," adding, "Take it from me." Billie's advice comes from hard-fought experience.

During a spoken interlude, Billie describes the uncertainty of her (and, by implication, everyone else's) future. She steadfastly asserts it will see "A small step for me, a giant leap for art," parodying Neil Armstrong's immortal words when he first set foot on the moon. In other words, in her own personal way, she sees her life's journey as every bit as epic as humanity's first venture to another world. In a very real sense, that's personally true for every single one of us.

It's worth noting that Chris and Neil wrote a song with the same name, "For Every Moment," in 2003 and worked on it further in 2005. They offered it to the Swedish group Alcazar, but they apparently passed on it. Hence, it has never been released—unless, of course, the "For Every Moment" in Musik is indeed that same song, or at least a modified version of it. Or did the Boys simply choose to repurpose a perfectly good title for an entirely different song? With no verification one way or the other from the PSB camp so far, we can only speculate.