Four Songs in A Minor

Writers - Tennant/Lowe (arr. Badalamenti)
First released - (unreleased)
Original album - (none)
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This piece, which debuted at the July 23, 2014 BBC Proms show at London's Royal Albert Hall—the same concert at which the completed Tennant-Lowe composition A Man from the Future received its world premiere—is an arrangement of four Pet Shop Boys songs orchestrated by American composer Angelo Badalamenti. It was performed that evening by the BBC Concert Orchestra and sung by none other than Chrissie Hynde, best known as the lead vocalist, songwriter, and all-around driving force behind the famed band The Pretenders. (An interesting sidenote is that Chrissie shares with Neil the distinction of being former pop-music journalist turned singer-songwriter-popstar.)

This of course wasn't the first time that Badalamenti had worked with the Boys. For Actually he had orchestrated "It Couldn't Happen Here," for Behaviour he had similarly orchestrated "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave" and "Only the Wind," and he did the orchestral arrangements for Results, the album they produced for Liza Minnelli. Considering that there's a clear break between each of the component songs, it may not really be accurate to refer to "Four Songs in A Minor" as a unified piece; it's more simply a convenient title created solely for the purpose of grouping these songs together for concert performance.

The four songs upon which this piece is built are (in order) "Love Is a Catastrophe," "Later Tonight," "Vocal," and "Rent," the last of which Chrissie sang as a duet with Neil. Now for a little "music theory digression" – Of these four songs, at least two ("Rent" and "Love Is a Catastrophe") were definitely in A minor as originally released by the Pet Shop Boys—although, intriguingly, the original Badalamenti arrangement of "Rent" for Liza Minnelli on Results was in Bflat minor and only shifted to A minor for its rendition on Concrete. But "Later Tonight" was originally in E minor, at least as clearly evidenced by its published sheet music, and "Vocal" sounds as though it's in F minor. Of course, just because a song was originally written and performed in one key doesn't mean it can't easily be transposed to another, so that must surely the case for "Later Tonight" and "Vocal" as parts of "Four Songs in A Minor."

Incidentally, as noted in the October 2014 issue of the PSB Fan Club publication Literally, Neil and Chris had originally wanted "King of Rome" to be among the four songs rather than "Later Tonight." But Badalamenti wanted "Later Tonight" instead, so the Boys relented.

Getting back to the performance itself, Chrissie's overtly emotive renditions have not proven popular with all PSB fans, many of whom are clearly fonder of Neil's "drier," less melodramatic manner of singing. Ultimately, however, it boils down to a matter of taste recording vocal styles. In this writer's opinion, three of these performances turned out extremely well, the exception being "Vocal." But that's not because of any problems I have with the singing, but rather with the song's orchestral arrangement overall. In short, it didn't seem to work. To put it another way, I simply don't think the orchestra (as opposed to the original synths) did justice to a song so inherently keyed to the modern dance floor.

It remains to be seen whether this suite of songs—either its original live Proms performance or a studio recording—will be officially released.

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