Elysium has elicited comparisons to Behaviour, the duo’s 1990 album that many fans, myself included, consider Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s most accomplished work. Expecting that some enterprising soul will delve into the veracity and fairness of that assessment at greater length and depth than I might ever muster, today I submit one example where the two albums obviously overlap.
“Ego Music,” from Elysium, has its corollary in Behaviour‘s “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?,” with both tracks addressing pop stars’ tendencies toward self-importance and vacuous words and deeds. Listening to “Ego Music,” it’s amazing how little has changed in two decades. Here’s how Tennant described “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?” in the liner notes to the 2001 deluxe edition of Behaviour:
“The words are about the aspirations and pomposity of pop stars and it just lists all these things that pop stars do and then says, ‘how can you expect to be taken seriously?’ There’s the normal attack on any number of rock stars supporting humanitarian causes … There’s also an attack on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame … The bit where I ask, ‘Do you have a message for your fans?’ was a boy band thing — people hadn’t had a message for their fans for decades, since the Sixties, and suddenly people were doing it again. When I was writing the song Chris said, ‘Do you think you should make the words nastier?’, because actually the words at the start were a bit airy-fairy. It hadn’t occurred to me, and suddenly I thought, ‘Oh it should really be horrible.‘ It’s a bit of a ‘You’re So Vain’ concept, really.”
That’s precisely the response I had upon hearing “Ego Music” for the first time. As Carly Simon sang in another, later song of hers, it was all coming around again. But while “Ego Music” shares a similar take-down theme with “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?,” Tennant’s new execution on Elysium cuts even deeper. Now he’s gone straight to the convoluted source for lyrical inspiration, as he recently revealed to Attitude, after being asked whether “Ego Music” was about Lady Gaga:
“It’s not specifically about Lady Gaga, it’s about the modern pop star. Pop music is very ego-driven these days. The modern pop lyric is like a diary almost. In other words, people don’t imagine, they just say what it is… A lot of lines [in the song] are direct quotes from what people say in interviews. ‘I am my own demographic’ is a direct quote.”
Doing some digging, I discovered that direct quote is from Dido, surprisingly. She offered that self-assessment in 2003, so there’s at least a decade’s worth of rich responses hiding in plain sight in “Ego Music,” if you’d like to do some leg work.
“How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?” served as the third single from Behaviour. While the song reached #4 in the UK, it peaked #93 on the Billboard Hot 100 on February 23, 1991. Not sure why Pet Shop Boys’ picked to promote the single with Brothers In Rhythm’s Perfect Attitude Mix, as heard in the music video below, over the superior album version, but perhaps that’s one reason it wasn’t taken seriously here.
Pet Shop Boys’ Behaviour isn’t available for download in the U.S., the only album in the duo’s discography to have that status. Seriously odd.