This Pet Shop Boys song was inspired by Estonia

The Pet Shop Boys, the most successful duo in the UK’s music history, was inspired after a visit to an Estonian island of Muhu.

The Pet Shop Boys, an English synthpop duo, formed in London in 1981 and consisting of Neil Tennant on lead vocals and Chris Lowe on keyboards, has performed in Estonia on numerous occasions, since their first concert at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds in 2000.

In fact, the duo liked Estonia so much that they returned on private trips, travelling out of the country’s capital, too. It was during one of those trips outside the capital that a new Pet Shop Boys song was born.

In the summer of 2000, Neil Tennant was staying at a small luxury resort, Pädaste Manor, on the island of Muhu, when his host organised a boat trip to another nearby island. But a sudden severe storm forced the party to abandon their excursion mid-course and return to the safety of the resort. This harrowing experience inspired Tennant to write the song called “Between Two Islands”.

The “Island of Lovers” and the “Island of Whores”

The lyrics of the song revolve around an extended metaphor for a failed love affair, described in nautical terms. The narrator and his erstwhile lover – at one point referred to as the “crew” and the “captain”, respectively – charted a course between the two islands of the title: the “Island of Lovers” and the “Island of Whores”.

The April 2003 issue of the Pet Shop Boys’ fan-club magazine, Literally, quoted Tennant as saying that these names aren’t merely a metamorphical fantasy – they’re the names, when translated, of two actual islands off the coast of Estonia. The fact that there’s “a very treacherous passage between them” inspired this song.

“Between Two Islands”

We sailed on a fishing-boat
between these two shores
the Island of Lovers
and the Island of Whores
I
You at the helm getting
soaked to the skin
taking me to places
I’d never been
I
Where are you tonight?
In the clouds or on the sea?
I’m thinking of you now
Do you ever think of me?
I
In different locations
taken by surprise
I woke up one morning
and looked in your eyes
I
What were you thinking?
I never knew
You were the captain
I was the crew
I
Where are you tonight?
In the clouds or on the sea?
I’m thinking of you now
Do you ever think of me?
I
Catching my stare
I wonder what you saw?
A not quite unrequited lover
or just another whore?
I
Safe in our life-jackets
salvaged from the sea…
Now I’m drowning
Won’t you rescue me?
I
Where are you tonight?
In the clouds or on the sea?
I’m thinking of you now
Do you ever think of me?
I
“I want you
and I want you to want me, baby
I want you
and I want you to want me too
I want you
and I want you to want me, baby
I want you
and I want you to want me too
The way that I want you”
I
“Between Two Islands” was ultimately released as the B-side of the “I Get Along”, the second single off the “Release” album (2003), and another top 20 hit for the duo in the British singles chart.
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The most successful duo

The Pet Shop Boys have sold more than 100 million records worldwide and are listed as the most successful duo in UK music history by the Guinness Book of Records. Since 1985 they have achieved 22 top 10 hits in the UK singles chart, including four UK number ones: “West End Girls” (also number one in the United States), “It’s a Sin”, “Always on My Mind” and “Heart”. In 2016, the Billboard magazine named Pet Shop Boys the number one dance duo/group over the 40 years since the chart’s inception in 1976.

The Pet Shop Boys performs at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds as part of their “Super” tour on 6 July 2018.

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Cover: The Pet Shop Boys in 1990. Between Two Islands lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd. Sources: The Pet Shop Boys and Wayne Studer. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the Pet Shop Boys.

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About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and Politics & Society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter. You can write to Silver at silver@estonianworld.com.