It Always Comes as a Surprise

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1996
Original album - Bilingual
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Chris Porter
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - promo single (in Brazil only)

Simply gorgeous. One of the most romantic, melodically beautiful, and evocatively arranged songs the Pet Shop Boys have written, "It Always Comes as a Surprise" was originally conceived as an "ordinary" ballad, virtually in the mode of Phil Collins. But the producer, Chris Porter, suggested that Neil and Chris move the song in a more Latin direction. Performed in a bossa-nova style, it's another of the Bilingual tracks that shows the powerful influence the Boys' South American trip had on them. They included a sample, played backwards, from the Astrud Gilberto/Stan Getz recording "Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars)," and also brought in a Brazilian musician to play the berimbau, a traditional Brazilian instrument with African roots.

Lyrically, "It Always Comes as a Surprise" expresses the tremendous joy, bordering on disbelief, that anyone (at least anyone with a modicum of humility) feels when seriously contemplating the one they love and how lucky they are to have found each other. Neil has stated that this song, like several others on Bilingual (most notably "Metamorphosis"), is autobiographical.

One thing I especially like about this song is the way in which the Boys subtly yet very skillfully evoke the narrator's sense of almost breathless wonder at the love he's found through more than just the lyrics. They also do so through the structure of the melody itself. Note the pauses of nearly two full measures between the phrases in each verse. For example—

I won't play games  [pause]
Or waste your time  [pause]
But I won't feel ashamed  [pause]
To speak my mind

It may not seem like much, but this is precisely the sort of compositional "special effect" that makes me love the songwriting team of Tennant and Lowe.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that—not surprisingly (pun intended) given the song's roots—this track proved especially popular in Brazil, so much so that it was released uniquely there as a promo single.


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