Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2007
Original album - Visionaire - Sound (various artists)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Fundamental 2017 reissue Further Listening 2005-2007 bonus disc
Other releases - (none)

This extremely brief song, only about a minute in length, was initially released exclusively as part of issue #53 of Visionaire, a New York-based limited-edition arts periodical that assumes a different format every issue. This particular issue, titled "Sound," consists of five 12-inch vinyl picture-disc recordings of "audio experiments," spoken-word pieces, and previously unreleased songs, among them this PSB track. (Other contributors include U2, Michael Stipe, Yoko Ono, Thurston Moore & Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Malcolm McLaren, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and David Sylvian, among others.) The package carried a hefty $250 price tag, and apparently only 4,000 were manufactured and sold. Fortunately, Neil and Chris saw fit to give it wider release in 2017 as a bonus track with the reissue of Fundamental.

The lyrics, which seem somewhat fragmentary—understandable enough in such a short, mid-tempo track—are as curious as they are brief. Neil's lyrical persona (whom I don't believe is Neil himself, for reasons that I'll explain in a moment) says that he deserves "a better life" with just "a little country house, a dog, and a car." The person to whom this is addressed appears to lack certain desirable qualities:

Giving will make you feel so good
And so much more human than you are

So the narrator calmly suggests that this person exhibit some "generosity," after which the song ends with a quiet "Thank you."

As I said, I don't believe the lyrical persona is meant to be taken as Neil himself. After all, he already enjoys a pretty good life—at least by most people's standards—so it might seem odd for him to suggest that he deserves an even better one. I think it's much more likely that he's voicing someone else's concerns.

And then there's that title, "Transfer." The Boys allude to one possible explanation in the February 2008 issue of their Fan Club magazine Literally when they describe the song's origin. They wrote it in early 2007, although Chris had the music in his computer from sometime before. "I was just going through all this stuff I had in my computer," he notes, to which Neil adds, "You were transferring them…." But they say little else about it or the song's meaning.

Quite possibly it refers to the phenomenon of "transference," in which (in one of its manifestations) a person projects his own problems or shortcomings onto another person. In other words, this character is himself lacking in generosity but, instead of owning up to it, accuses someone else of having that particular flaw, thereby "transferring" the fault to the other person. (It should be noted that another, more common definition of "transference" in the field of psychology is the transfer of one's feelings for someone else onto another.) Perhaps Neil—who, as usual, wrote the lyrics—had encountered a situation like this at some point, having been unfairly accused of lacking in generosity by an erstwhile lover. That, of course, is sheer speculation. I'd hate to think, however, that anyone was ever so cruel as to accuse him of not being very "human."

Of course, as I've often stated right here on this website, good art lends itself to multiple interpretations, and this song is no exception. PSB aficionados (such as on the Pet Shop Boys Community Forum) have proposed a number of intriguing interpretations quite different from mine. One promising viewpoint is that this song is actually a plea to fans—possibly from Neil's own perspective but, perhaps more likely, from that of a younger, more struggling artist—not to engage in illegal downloading. Rather, fans should pay for music to help ensure that artists can make as good a living as they deserve according to the merit of their work. In this case, the title might refer to the illegal transfer of digital music files and/or to the legal transfer of funds for legitimate downloading. The fact that Neil specifically refers to Chris "transferring" computer files while discussing the creation of this song may lend additional credence to this reading of the lyrics.

Another especially compelling interpretation, shared by a site visitor, is that it may concern the huge transfer of wealth that has been occurring in recent years as the baby-boomer generation has started retiring, with some of its more fabulously wealthy members (such as Bill Gates) moving sizable portions of their personal fortunes into private foundations, which serves not only as an act of philanthropy and but also—and perhaps more pointedly—as a tax shelter. Whatever the case, "Transfer" easily earns its place among the more enigmatic PSB creations.

All other interpretations aside, Neil described his intentions in the booklet accompanying the 2017 reissue of Fundamental:

[W]e tried to make it something that didn't need to be longer than a minute. So you get the whole story, which is about someone begging for money from a rich person.

Sort of puts all of our speculations in perspective, doesn't it? wink If it's any comfort, however, remember: any work of art means more than just what its creator says it means. That's what makes it art.

Incidentally, the Visionaire team had worked with the Pet Shop Boys before, having designed the artwork and packaging for their 2002 album Release.

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