Tuesday, 18 March 2008

EIGHTH WONDER: I'm Not Scared



In early 1988, Stuart Maconie opined with some confidence in an All About Eve article in the NME that certain things were absolutely assured in life, including the fact that Patsy Kensit would never have a hit single. One month later she was in the Top 20. Stuart's a wise man more often than not, but here he failed to take the real X factor into account - namely, the Pet Shop Boys.

If "I'm Not Scared" is really Patsy plus PSBs rather than Eighth Wonder, as such, then that is no disgrace; on the contrary, in the charts of its time its exquisitely painful shine was even more radiant than might have been expected. Despite the attempts of certain oldies shows on certain national radio broadcasters to paint a revisionist picture of 1988 pop as being about huge, flashy boulders of pseudo-bigness - the migraine-inducing industry of Bros, the shoulder-padded gloss of ballad Whitney - it was a time of crimson and yellow explosions of newness; around every corner was a Coldcut, a Bomb the Bass, an Eric B and Rakim, a Vanessa Paradis, a Primitives, to confound and delight the discerning pop fan further and further...and it was still only March!

And "I'm Not Scared" might be the most brilliant of all of these diamonds; foreseeing the 1988 chart-topping Kylie of twenty years hence, there is a depth, a natural elegance to its processional which betrays an astonishing beauty. Not only does Patsy sing like the Kylie of 2008, but she also predicates Sarah Cracknell and defines a path which a more generous Madonna might have trod - crucially she keeps the vocal low and confidential; she knows her limits but is faultless within them.

The PSBs knew what she might be thinking, too; every turn suggests a twist in Kensit's sobriety ("What have you got to hide? What do you need to prove?" "Tonight the streets are full of actors") - outwardly opulent but inwardly in great fear, running from an unspecified past ("I thought that if you paid/You'd keep them off our backs" - the downside of the credit boom foretold, or just the nearest newspaper editor?) towards an even less certain future.

And yet, and yet...she won't be shaken or put off; she will walk right through the arena of prematurely pouring blood and know she is still heading in the right, the only, direction, even towards a place which actually might be her real home ("Where do we have to be, so I can laugh and you'll be free?"). The overwhelming feeling, however, is that they are free to go anywhere.

The music is glorious, post-Debussian outflow of careful, staccato electro beats powering a seemingly placid surface with the kind of chord changes which can't be learned at the Brit School. On their own version of the song, which appeared on the Introspective mini-album later that year, the PSBs make the allusion explicit, topping and tailing the song with crowd noises from the '68 Paris riots - and of course, as punctum is heaped upon punctum, Patsy switches at the song's climax to French, now demanding, rather than asking, that these dogs be taken away from her.

The moment when the song turns a corner and turns, practically, into Joy Division's "Decades" is heartstopping; you feel privy to a richness absent from the pallid gloss prevalent elsewhere, and in Patsy's breaths you sense the slowly dawning realisation that she is participating in one of the greatest of pop records ("But I can...I can fight"). But the Paris riots are themselves a metaphor for the crushing blows of Thatcherism, as demonstrated in the world-stopping climax where - over those Joy Division synths and newer order regrets - Patsy intones "If I was you, if I was you, I wouldn't treat me the way you do" as she makes up her mind to engage in the battle, and thereby with the world, with equal ounces of pity and threat, before subsiding again into French whispers - "J'ai pas peur," she prays into the record's final grooves; has she been speaking to herself, or to us, urging us to stop being frightened or hypnotised and strike back, regardless of the packs snapping around our feet? Only the PSBs could have created it, perhaps only Patsy could have sung it truthfully, and perhaps only in 1988 could it have carried its huge moral and aesthetic weight. Never say never, again.