Searching for the Face of Jesus

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2002
Original album - Format
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Release 2017 reissue Further Listening 2001-2004 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "I Get Along"

Boasting one of the most intriguing titles in the PSB corpus, this midtempo outtake from the Release sessions began life, according to Neil, "as an acoustic-y thing," but it later grew more elaborate. It was seriously considered for the album, but didn't make the final cut. With regard to its subject matter, Neil has confirmed that this song concerns Elvis Presley—hence the references to "downtown Memphis, Tennessee" (Elvis was that city's most famous resident). It's a documented fact that Presley was reading Frank O. Adams's 1972 book about the Shroud of Turin, A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, when he unceremoniously dropped dead while sitting on his toilet at Graceland. This song might be alluding to the contemporary quasi-religion of "Presleyism" (aka "Elvisianty" or "Elvislam").

Working at additional levels, it seems in many ways a companion piece to "Birthday Boy." As in that Release track, recorded around the same time, the lyrics suggest that Jesus, a martyred exemplar of faith and love, continues to suffer in the modern world in the form of those who are hurt, abused, and abandoned. Amidst all the suffering, people are searching for meaning and guidance on how they should live their lives: "Looking for the light we need." Could it be that at least certain aspects of Neil's Catholic upbringing are resurfacing after years of apparent neglect? As he sings in one of the most chilling lines he has ever written, Jesus's face is "painted in the blood we bleed" (a possible reference to the Veil of Veronica, a Christian relic that is alleged to have been used to wipe Jesus's bloody face and to which its image was miraculously transferred—which itself harkens to the Shroud of Turin). The song's arrangement is also quite remarkable, especially the instrumental bridge with its slightly (and delightfully) cheesy accordion and/or harmonium (or, more likely, synth/sampler replication).


*I rarely discuss my personal religious beliefs online but, in case you're interested, I'm one of them. But please don't jump to the stereotype-based conclusion that because I'm a Christian I therefore believe that all "non-believers" are bound for hell. I don't adhere to that particular belief. Nor am I a fundamentalist, a biblical literalist, or a right-winger. If I had to categorize myself, I'd say I'm a gay moderate Christian existentialist with agnostic-libertarian inclinations—sort of.


Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references