The Lost Room

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2023
Original album - Lost (EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Chris and Neil wrote this song during the period 2014-2015 along with others that found their way onto Super, and it very nearly made it onto the album itself before they determined that it didn't fit well into the album's more upbeat overall mood. Neil suggested at that time that it would somehow appear later as a "bonus track," although precisely when and how wouldn't be revealed until December 2022. At that time it was announced it would be released as the lead track on the EP Lost, issued as a bonus with their fan publication Annually 2023, scheduled for April 2023.

Chris once referred to its style as "techno," although he also noted that they recorded more than one rendition, including what he describes as "a jazz version." In Neil's words it's "an extremely dark song" based on the 1906 novel The Confusions of Young Törless by the Austrian author Robert Musil (and the 1966 German film based on it, Young Törless), about how boys bully each other in an Austro-Hungarian military school around the turn of the last century. It was this darkness, apparently, that rendered it inappropriate for Super.

Indeed sung from the perspective of a boy at a military boarding school, the lyrics tell of how he and his schoolmates are taught "to be hard" in an environment marked by "cruelty" and "tyranny." He writes to his mother for emotional support, but she only responds that "it's important to be brave." His father, meanwhile, is "far away in a corner of the empire" in service to the nation, probably either military or diplomatic. The young narrator manages to find some small respite—but only small—in "the lost room" of the title, "our hideway [where] we would play the strangest games that any boy might like to play," words that might but doesn't necessarily carry sexual implications; Neil has said that "the lost room" is a room where boys are tortured by other boys. But it's not at all clear from the song itself whether this "lost room" is purely an actual, physical place or may also be a metaphorical, psychological one. Whatever the case, there, in the darkness of that room, "candles flickered, casting shadows on the monsters and their prey." Of course, this monster/prey dichotomy is the stuff of both childhood fantasy play and real life as he absorbs his brutal lessons of "how survival of the fittest meant destruction of the weak."

Toward the song's conclusion, the narrator—presumably the boy now grown to manhood—casts his perspective backwards to his childhood and then forward again, visualizing his "future, as time would tell"—in other words, now his present— where "running riot under orders would create a living hell." That is, he's living the hellish life of the soldier for which his school days were preparing him. Cast emotionally, psychologically, and morally adrift, he utters the song's final words: a twice-repeated, deeply poignant "Lost—mother, I'm lost."

Annotations

On the other hand, one of my site visitors has pointed out "never shall be slaves" directly echoes a line from the chorus of the patriotic British song "Rule, Britannia!" the lyrics of which were composed in 1740 by Scottish poet James Thomson:

Given that the British Empire also had far-flung "corners," it's possible that Neil is extrapolating the Austro-Hungarian Empire setting to what would be to him a more culturally "familiar" British experience. At the very least, his use of the words "never shall be slaves" may be derived in part (if not wholly) from "Rule, Britannia!"

Yet another site visitor, however, has observed that the Nemzeti dal, a popular national song of Hungary (not the same as its national anthem, "Himnusz"), the lyrics of which were composed in 1848 by Hungarian poet and patriot Sándor Petőfi, includes at the end of every verse the lines "Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább/Nem leszünk!" (translated "We vow, that we won't be slaves any longer!"). So that, too, may be the—or at least an—inspiration for this multi-faceted line of the PSB song.

List cross-references