In His Imagination

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2012
Original album - Elysium 2017 reissue bonus disc
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "Leaving"

Chris and Neil wrote and recorded this song in London during the summer of 2012, well after the completion of the Elysium album sessions in Los Angeles. Its music grew out of an early attempt at "I Started a Joke," which they ultimately decided to take in a different direction. A somewhat wistful mid-to-uptempo ballad with an attractive melody, its lyrics describe a young man with a mind-numbingly dull, repetitive job that requires him to work "the midnight shift." So it's perhaps not too surprising that he finds far greater appeal and solace in his flights of fancy than in the humdrum realities of his everyday existence.

What's perhaps most noteworthy about the underlying premise of this song, however, is that the Boys' don't take the easy way out with their story. That is, they could simply have left their protagonist stuck in his dull job and pointless daydreams, letting their song stand as a portrait of a failure. Instead, however, they demonstrate in the second half of the song that his imaginings have proved anything but pointless. On the contrary, those dreams led him to the start of a promising new career as an artist, in which he'll apparently be able to give his imagination free rein, thereby transforming seemingly unproductive behavior into something quite productive indeed. So Neil and Chris have taken what we might have expected to be implicit criticism of a "dreamer" and turned it into a celebration of a "doer" who has put his imagination to work. And that, after all, is much of what art is all about.

Then again, as one of my site visitors has suggested, it's just possible that this new artistic career of his is also merely "in his imagination." Yes, there's sufficient ambiguity in the song to make that a possibility as well. The human capacity for self-deception is boundless. But, personally, I prefer not to view the story from quite that pessimistic a perspective.

Another interesting aspect of this song—one that I had noticed early on but which I didn't feel worth commenting on until another of my site visitors wrote to me about it—is that, although its story is told primarily in the third person (with its ostensible central character of course referred to as "he"), it's actually related from a first-person perspective, with the narrator twice referring to himself: "He tells me his mother says…" and "Monday evening I see he's back with a smile on his face…." By employing this relatively subtle first-person narrator, who just barely interjects himself into the story (as opposed to an omniscient third-person narrator, which might have been more typical for a song with a subject like this), Neil adds a far more personal element to his tale. In effect, it makes it sound much more real.

The song ends in a highly atypical fashion for the Pet Shop Boys: an echo- and harmony-laden a cappella chorus, which Neil performs with the assistance of Canadian singer/guitarist Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras. At least to my ears, this serves to underscore how the "flying away" that had originally been only a dream has now become a reality as the young artist literally (no longer figuratively) is flying off to London to start his exciting new life. Interestingly, Neil has said that the song in general is "meant to sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash singing with Ladytron," which might also explain at least in part that choral conclusion.


List cross-references