Inside a Dream

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2013
Original album - Electric
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

A little more than three weeks before the release of Electric, PSB fandom got an advance listen to this track courtesy the Popjustice website, which previewed it along with an interview with Neil Tennant. Starting out with synth-organ chords worthy of the Phantom of the Opera himself, the track quickly shifts gears to a snappy, thoroughly bouncy electro-bassline that all but forces you to move in time with it.

The lyrics of this song are in many ways extremely vague and impressionistic, lending themselves to all sorts of interpretations. In fact, Neil has stated, "I don't know what I was thinking of really" when writing the lyrics. Later, however, in the March 2014 issue of Literally, he said (somewhat vaguely), "The words are about dreaming. Taking yourself out of your mundane surroundings." Regardless, his intentions—or lack thereof—aren't the whole story, as I've often noted in relation to the intentional fallacy. One can go in many different directions with it, but I'm going to take just one of them and run with it. You're free of course to take it or leave it as you see fit.

The first verse sets the stage for us:

Taking a ride inside a dream
Living a world I've never seen
Wishes come true that should have been
Looks familiar, feels obscene

Where are we (aside from "inside a dream," of course)? A bigger clue comes in the chorus, or at least the recurring couplet that fills the role of the chorus—or perhaps it's a bridge in a song devoid of a chorus—all of this uncertainty being caused by the song's somewhat unconventional structure:

The Land of Dreams is better far
Above the light of the Morning Star

More about the original source of those lines in a moment. So we're in the "Land of Dreams." And where precisely is that? There's no shortage of possibilities, including the geographical, the literary, and the psychological. It may even be a combination of all three. One prime candidate, however, is America, which has been referred to as "the Land of Dreams" on numerous occasions. (To take just two recent examples, there are the 1988 album of that title by Randy Newman and a 2012 Rosanne Cash song of that same name.) An even more specific candidate is California, which has also been referred to as a Land of Dreams (such as in James Blaylock's 1987 novel with that title). After all, Neil and Chris lived in California for several months in early 2012 while working on their Elysium album—during which time they also wrote many of the songs for Electric, although "Inside a Dream" itself wasn't among them. It came shortly afterward, composed partly in Berlin and completed in London.

Regardless of where it was written, could the germ of this song have been planted during their Los Angeles sojourn? Consider the fact that L.A. is known for its "car culture," so "taking a ride" is an apt metaphor for living there, inside the "dream" of the City of Angels. Later in the song Neil comes right out and describes driving along with music playing, almost certainly on the car radio. (Maybe stylistically the song itself is supposed to suggest something the Boys might have heard on the radio in L.A.) So it's quite easy to imagine them driving on southern Californian streets and highways that might "look familiar" (perhaps because so many television shows have been filmed there) but "feel obscene." It certainly wouldn't be the first time someone has described Los Angeles in terms that suggest decadence.

It's hard to know what to make of that recurring couplet:

The Land of Dreams is better far
Above the light of the Morning Star

As it turns out, it's a direct quotation of the concluding lines of the 1803 poem "The Land of Dreams" by the English romantic poet William Blake (1757-1827). In the poem, these words are spoken by a little boy to his father, both of whom are in mourning for the boy's recently deceased mother. The child tells of having dreamt of her and longing to return to "the land of dreams" so that he can be once again by her side. In the process he contrasts it with the real world, which he describes as a "land of unbelief and fear." This may be akin to the "familiar" yet "obscene" world that Neil sings of earlier in the song.

So is "Inside a Dream" indeed the Pet Shop Boys' song about living in Los Angeles for three months? Could it even have emerged unintentionally from Neil's subconscious ruminations on that recent experience? I think it's a distinct possibility. I'll leave the rest up to you—and to Chris and Neil.

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