Monday, September 16, 2013

Consequential Lyrics #4: Pet Shop Boys

As soon as I started thinking about the Pet Shop Boys and lyricism, my thoughts instinctively turned to the website 10 Years of Being Boring. It's a relatively old (and surprisingly vast) website that was first created in 2000 and last updated in 2003, but I have never encountered anything like it before or since. I admire its reverence and its ambition to faithfully describe the construction and consequence of this one song, a song the webmaster describes as the most beautiful song ever created.

Even before the site's advent, I knew there was always a certain sanctity that surrounded this song. I recognised it in the hand-written text which featured in the introduction of the promotional video:


It's wistful and poignant, reflecting upon friendship and loss, the passing of time and the dreams of those who are no longer with us. In an interview in 1993, Neil Tennant said that Being Boring was a personal song because it was about an old friend who had died of AIDS: "... and so it's about our lives when we were teenagers and how we moved to London, and I suppose me becoming successful and him becoming ill." According to the webmaster of 10 Years..., Being Boring was Tennant's first autobiographical song and that idea really intrigued me.

How do we properly establish that a song is autobiographical in nature? Does it need to have a certain quality, an alarming degree of personal intimacy? Surely there needs to be some specificity, a plausible link between the artist and the confession? It's always interesting when an artist freely discloses that personal consequence in an interview, as Neil did with the New Musical Express. What's fascinating, in this case, is how that act of disclosure ultimately contributed to the credibility of the Pet Shop Boys, transforming their unique brand of disco into art.

It's always so enjoyable to listen to Neil and Chris discuss their music, as demonstrated by how frequently we watch Pop Art: The Videos with their commentary. It's abundantly clear that it's all been carefully scrutinised in great detail: it's everything from the samples to the orchestration, the artwork and the imagery, not to mention, all those lyrical themes and intended meanings. It's so enormously gratifying to see how much thought went into the construction of this great music and yet, I can't quite understand why I appreciate it so much.

Perhaps a part of it has to do with the fact that so many artists just don't go into that level of detail. Whether it be obtuse lyrics or cagey artists, it's unrealistic to think the listener can always uncover a song's autobiographical relevance to the songwriter. It's a point that is so often demonstrated by friends who are musicians, who go on to confess the meaning of that song after the show is over. They add, "But I can never say that in an interview, I can never tell anyone what that song really means." I suppose that's why the autobiographical song seems so important: we want to feel as if we've been entrusted with a secret.

Consequential Lyrics #4: Pet Shop Boys
Home & Dry
Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)
Can You Forgive Her?
Miracles
Always On My Mind
Numb
The Way It Used To Be
Tonight is Forever

Download (61 MB)

4 comments:

Marcella Wright said...

I first came upon the Pet Shop Boys after purchasing one of my first CDs which was a Video Hits compilation. Pet Shop Boys' Absolutely Fabulous which was a total bee popper as far as my young self was concerned. They were something else. And since, thanks to friends with great taste in music (i.e., you & M) I have realised just how talented this duo is! So, thank you, C&CM!

Eleanor said...

Aw, I'm glad to have enlightened you, Marcella! I love Ab Fab too! I hope you found some songs that you liked! xx

Anonymous said...

This remains my favourite song after 23 years. Absolute pop perfection. Thanks for the article.

Eleanor said...

Thank you! Being Boring is a really glorious song, I'm glad you enjoyed the article!