King of Rome

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2009
Original album - Yes
Producer - Brian Higgins, Xenomania
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - promo single (in Brazil only)

It takes a few listens, but it grows on you. One of the album's more somber tracks—and arguably its most gorgeous—it's been described by one reviewer as "world-weary." The German word Weltschmerz is perhaps appropriate: a pervasive awareness of the limitations of the world in satisfying one's deepest needs and the nagging sadness that arises from it.

And if I were the King of Rome
I couldn't be more tragic
My fate to roam so far from home
In search of my lost magic

The central source of the narrator's sadness, however, stems from one person in particular, an erstwhile lover who has left him behind. "Oh, baby, come back to me," he cries, desperate in his loneliness. Even just hearing his voice would help: "Oh, baby, call me." Neil makes his character's despair physically palpable when he sings lines that begin "I long…" and "I hunger…." All the wonders of the world, all the experiences and pleasures it has to offer the senses, are as nothing when the one you love isn't there to share them with you.

The "King of Rome" reference is to the son of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was crowned with that title as an infant. After his father's exile, the boy—Napoleon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, only three years old at the time—was taken by his mother, Marie Louise, to Austria. There they lived in comfort but comparative isolation. François (or Franz, as he came to be known among his German-speaking hosts) died in Vienna of tuberculosis at the age of 21. Neil describes him as "an emblem of loneliness in the midst of wealth."

Neil's vocal here deserves special mention. In essence, it's one long, drawn out, exhausted sigh, thoroughly ethereal in sound. Those "ohs" are particularly evocative: as androgynous as air. I can't think of any other performance of his quite like it. While it may not be to everyone's liking, I personally think it's quite exceptional.

Interestingly, like "It Always Comes as a Surprise" more than a decade earlier, "King of Rome" was released as a promo single in Brazil, where it had proven especially popular.



Officially released

List cross-references