tremble clef

Monday, April 24, 2006

Le Sport, "If Neil Tennant Was My Lover" (2006)

"If Neil Tennant was my lover": the title phrase leads one to expect this song, by Swedish electropop duo Le Sport (née Eurosport, until a TV channel with the same name cracked their knuckles menacingly), to be a massive, sustained knee-slapper of a joke. Surely there would be lines that go, "Would he beg for release with every rough kiss/And ask me what he had done to deserve this?" or at the very least a "so hard" gag?

And yes, there are a few moments in the track when Le Sport get their little digs in, like when they shall I put this delicately? Well, they wonder: when you put a Swede in front of an Englishman, does the latter turn, um, aggressively French? "If Neil Tennant was my lover, would he copy his keys? Would he stand on his knees?"

But such nudging winks are few. The song, surprisingly, turns out to be a fairly somber meditation, I think -- or, since its lyric is quite sparse, "allows us to read it as being" -- about fame, privacy, homosexuality, and, finally, power differences in relationships. "If Neil Tennant was my lover, would he meet my friends? Would he call my name, while out on the dancefloors, or would he" As those first lines suggest, Le Sport is quite seriously thinking about what it might mean to date someone famous and gay. Would dancing with Neil Tennant be any different from dancing alone? Would dating him be as good as dating no one, if all you two do is stay home together in a bubble, away from your pals? If these things are happening, what's the reason for them anyway? Neil's technically out: surely his refusal to meet your friends isn't because of the closet? Is it just because he is openly gay but still desirous of privacy? Does his hesitation about giving you a set of his housekeys just stem from his nervousness about having you around the antiques, or does he just not love you? Does his fame just mean that he wants to be extra-careful about who he's seen with? Can all these reasons be disentangled from each other? Ultimately: can such a relationship ever be one between equals? "If Neil Tennant was my lover, would he do me no harm? Would he put on his charm?" Would the relationship ever escape the dynamic that comes from having one person be so powerful and famous, such that the other has to be "one of his puppets," whether or not that was his intention, or the other's desire?

As the song goes on, the rhyme scheme and questions fall apart: "If Neil Tennant was my lover, would, no. I don't think he would do that to me." The vocals get increasingly processed and autotuned, and more and more voices join in, creating a jumble that perhaps approximates the confused internal debate that's going on. One line does finally emerge from the chaos: "Oh, would he be my man, and stand up and fight for me?" In the end, that's the only thing you can do to stop the doubting: you have to stop asking the questions that drive you crazy ("no, no"), and just have the sort of faith and hope ("I don't think he would do that to me") that can be reduced to a simple plea (stand up, and fight for me).

This may not be the best track on Le Sport's new debut album Euro Deluxe Dance Party. (That would be, in my view, "Every Lovesong," a deceptively simple and bouncy track that, in its second half, opens up into a glorious cascade of synth riffs and harmonies.) But by imagining what it might be like if Neil actually lives out the scenarios of Pet Shop Boys songs like "Rent," "In Private," or "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk" -- not, disingenously, as he tends to do, as the kept one, but as the more powerful keeper -- this track really pays tribute to a band that obviously has inspired Le Sport tremendously. This might seem like a banal conclusion to reach. Of course it's a tribute; you only have to look at the title (or also consider the title of another track from the album, "It's Not The End Of The World," or, really, the spirit of any of their titles), or listen to the synthpop production and melodies that come straight from Chris Lowe's book! But, I've been suggesting, the tribute runs deeper: not simply a song that namechecks Neil, or even makes him the target of a cheeky joke, "If Neil Tennant Was My Lover" asks questions that are very Pet Shop Boys in nature, and thus turns out to be a more unpredictable, and therefore interesting, kind of homage.


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