Tall Thin Men

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2017
Original album - Nightlife 2017 reissue Further Listening 1996-2000 bonus disc
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Let's count the layers of irony in this hilarious and wildly atypical song, which at one time was planned as the opening number, a "prelude" of sorts, of their 2001 stage musical Closer to Heaven, but was ultimately deleted. First of all, the narrator—or, more accurately, each narrator (club-owner Vic and his boyfriend, a character who was also deleted)—asserts that he's not one of those "tall thin men who like show tunes." The stereotype, of course, is that it's gay men who are huge fans of musical theater, and perhaps who are more inclined to being tall and thin as well (read "gaunt" and "delicate"), although those are less pervasive stereotypical traits. Since Vic of course is gay, there's one level of irony right there. Yet that's just stereotype-busting. There's so much more.

Next consider the way in which this song is performed by the Pet Shop Boys. In short, the narrator (in this case, Neil singing alone) spends the entire song proclaiming his intense dislike of musicals. Along the way he cites the shows Carousel, Les Miserables (as "Les Miz"), Oklahoma, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Miss Saigon, name-checks major musical stars Ute Lemper ("puts me in a temper") and "Elaine flaming Paige," and insists that he would much prefer to hear Madonna sing "Into the Groove" than "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." But the music itself, performed by a small orchestra, has been arranged by occasional PSB collaborator Richard Niles much like a pre-rock-era show tune, or at least like a broad parody of one. The Boys had specifically asked that he make it stylistically reminiscent of a Kander & Ebb number, like those from their musicals Chicago and Cabaret.

It sounds like nothing else the Pet Shop Boys have done; the closest is the "Swing Version" of "Can You Forgive Her?" although "Tall Thin Men" is far more over-the-top. And in light of the fact that the Boys wrote this to be a showtune about not liking showtunes—well, you can't get much more ironic than that. In the demo Neil has a little trouble managing the melody, which is all over the place (after all, they wrote it not for his voice but two other voices), yet they nevertheless pull it off with tremendous aplomb.

Aside from having been briefly available as a digital download from the official PSB website, this remarkable recording was long left officially unreleased—but just as long bootlegged—until the 2017 reissue of Nightlife with bonus tracks. I'm not surprised that it should eventually see the official "physical" light of day; it's much too funny and much too good to have languished in perpetuity in the twilight world of unauthorized mp3 and Flash files. At one time I thought that perhaps Neil and Chris might be saving it for a subsequent musical, which they were hinting at shortly after Closer to Heaven closed. But someone else beat them to it. The producers of the 2006 Australian stage show titled Seriously—the Pet Shop Boys Reinterpreted included "Tall Thin Men" among the Tennant-Lowe songs given dramatic new readings. Of course, this hardly prevents the Boys from using this song however they may see fit at some point in the future.


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