Odd Man Out

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2013
Original album - (none)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "Thursday"

Chris and Neil wrote and demoed this track in October 2011. They liked it well enough to consider it a serious candidate for a future b-side. Sure enough, it was released as such in November 2013 with the single "Thursday."

Clearly inspired by the pioneering 1961 British film Victim starring Dirk Bogarde—according to various sources (including Wikipedia) the first English-language dramatic film to use the word "homosexual"—the lyrics are spoken from the perspective of a deeply closeted but highly self-aware man of that "pre-gay" era. Not only is the year 1961 specifically called out as the song's setting, but one of the film's principal characters, "Boy" Barrett, is mentioned by name, and several lines among the lyrics are exact or approximate quotations from the script. The kicker is that a lengthy excerpt of the film's dialogue—or, more accurately, a monologue by another character—is sampled for the conclusion of the track.

Like the movie on which it's based, "Odd Man Out" is a bitter rumination on the injustice and indignity suffered by homosexual men and women of the pre-Stonewall era. The mood is achingly downcast, emphasized by the music's slow-to-moderate beat, richly resonant bass (listen with headphones!), and descending chord patterns. An air of sadness and self-loathing pervades the song ("Nature's played me a dirty trick"), but there's also more than a little anger and even a glimmer of hope as the narrator looks forward to a day when he and his kind will no longer need to fear threats of blackmail, disgrace, imprisonment, and suicide simply on account of whom they love. ("The law says I'm a criminal, but I can't help the way I am.") It's that very anger and hope, in fact, as well as a growing sense of community and shared mistreatment at the hands of the broader society, that would fuel the gay liberation movement that—though already brewing at the time, Victim itself being one manifestation of it—would burst into mainstream consciousness before the end of the decade. As the song's narrator asserts, "I'm an odd man out," but he follows those words soon after by the seemingly contradictory "There's quite a few of us about…." It's enough to make us wonder whether Neil is consciously toying with the word "out" in the title, turning the final word of that clichéd expression into a play on the soon to be equally commonplace phrase "coming out of the closet."

Like the film Victim, the character who speaks those words is a pioneer, standing on the verge of actively and openly fighting back against a society that unfairly brands him an outlaw. And the song is a striking reminder of just how far most of the world has come in fifty-odd years on the subject of homosexuality. But it should also serve to remind us that, in some parts of the world, gay men and women still have a long way to go.


List cross-references