Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2013
Original album - Electric
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - Elysium 2017 reissue bonus disc, Inner Sanctum, Smash
Other releases - single (US Dance #3)

Chris and Neil began work on this song in early 2011, recorded some tracks for it during the Elysium sessions with Andrew Dawson co-producing in early 2012, and resumed their efforts later that year while working on Electric with producer Stuart Price. Neil described it early on as "one of the up ones," so it's likely they simply deemed it inappropriate for the more contemplative tenor of Elysium and saved it for the more dance-oriented follow-up.

Starting out with a slow burn before breaking out full-on into an ecstatic dance track—a thoroughly modern spin on the classic house music style—this song not only serves as a strong closer to Electric but also was employed by the Pet Shop Boys as a powerful final encore for their Electric Tour concerts. And they confirmed its status as a single—the second from Electric if you count "Axis" as the first, but really the first given the "full-fledged single" treatment—via their official website on June1, 2013, the same day on which the radio edit (only a little over half the length of the album version) made its debut on BBC Radio 2. The very next day they announced that it was going on sale at iTunes, along with word that a physical 12-inch vinyl and CD single as well as a digital bundle, (including remixes, would soon follow. Most surprisingly, however, it became one of the rare PSB singles not to offer one or more previously unreleased songs—as opposed to mere remixes—as bonus tracks.

The Boys told an interviewer for the Spanish newspaper El País that "Vocal" is about "the feeling of dancing in a club." A subsequent press release described it being inspired "by the way British youth [in the late 1980s] found its own freedom with a new culture epitomised by dance music and raves." That being the case, the song celebrates music—and, yes, dance music in particular—as a shared experience, a source of almost spiritual communal pleasure:

I like the people
I like the song
This is my kind of music
They play it all night long

The relatively simple lyrics also touch upon the way in which music makes a meaningful personal connection with listeners, especially when it includes lyrics and vocals that articulate on their behalf thoughts and feelings that they're not quite able to express, at least not until the music expresses it for them—becoming, in effect, their "vocal":

Anything I want to say out loud will be sung
It's in the music
It's in the song
Expressing passion
Explaining pain
Aspirations for a better life are ordained

Various lines are repeated over and over again in a mantra-like fashion, which only serves to heighten the song's simultaneously euphoric yet near-mystical mood. Overall, it succeeds admirably—every bit as much as the Boys were surely hoping—in evoking the almost hypnotic reverie of the dance floor.

While the lyrics do include the word "vocal" ("Every track has a vocal…"), the title is highly appropriate in at least one other important way. It's hardly unusual that "Vocal" is written from a first-person perspective—after all, most pop/rock songs are—but it may be especially significant in this case. The song itself gives voice to the thoughts and feelings of no doubt a great many of the people who would be listening to it, perhaps right out there on the dance floor. One might even consider this song to be about itself. And if you look at it from that angle, then Neil's line about the singer being "lonely and strange" takes on an intriguing new layer of meaning. Even if you don't think that Neil may be singing about himself (and, no, I don't necessarily believe that), he surely must have considered, as both a lyricist and a male singer of dance music, the potential implications of such a line.



Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references