In Bits

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2016
Original album - (none)
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "The Pop Kids"

This uptempo yet somber ballad is one of the two "b-side" bonus tracks (the other being "One Hit Wonder") to be released with "The Pop Kids," the first single from the Pet Shop Boys' 2016 album Super. To this listener's ears, it sounds like a rather direct heartbreak song in which the narrator affirms that he's left "in bits" by the end of a love affair. But, despite the fact that he's "a sensitive guy" who despairingly feels that he "may as well die," he's bound and determined to remain outwardly stoic about it: "I won't cry—I'll just say goodbye." In other words, he's simply resigned to the situation since he knows full well there's nothing he can do about it.

Neil, however, has placed the song in a different though not wholly contradictory light: "it's a guy having had a massive argument in which his partner has completely demolished him, and so he's feeling utterly worthless." So, from that perspective, it's not necessarily about the end of a love affair—although the narrator in his despair may indeed feel that way about it.

Meanwhile, the melody line of Neil's vocal never strays from the same three notes used over and over again with extremely narrow intervals and only the slightest of variations. While technically not a "monotone," the vocal melody does come across somewhat monotonous, particularly in contrast to the greater melodic range of the otherwise similarly repetitive lead piano line, which consists of individual notes as opposed to full chords. And (as one of my site visitors astutely observed) the lyrics themselves are very much "in bits"—short, simple phrases and clauses, mostly just two to four words, never more than six—almost as if the narrator is simultaneously so distraught yet restrained that he can barely put together a complete sentence. All of this serves to emphasize the song's overall mood of understated resignation and despair.

I find this track especially interesting from a rhythmic perspective. The percussion is in more or less basic 4/4 time, but following a more conventionally rhythmic first verse, the melody and lyric of the second verse (and continuing to the end of the song) shift subtly in such a way that they invite you to hear them in measures of four beats, then four more beats, but then three beats and then five before resuming the pattern: that is, 4-4-3-5 instead of the much more conventional 4-4-4-4. This syncopated pattern lends to the second half of the song an oddly disconcerting mood, which helps to convey the narrator's profound sense of unease at the situation in which he finds himself.


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