My 8 most beautiful PSB "musical moments"

It's of course a matter of personal opinion, but these are the eight brief moments that strike me as simply the most beautiful things, musically speaking, that the Pet Shop Boys have recorded to date.

  1. The bridge/middle eight in "DJ Culture"

    "Now, as a matter of pride, indulge yourself...." I get the shivers nearly every time I hear it: a gorgeous descending chord progression that lends an air of almost unbearable sadness to lyrics alluding to the sometimes desperate measures people take to try to make themselves happy.

  2. The transition from the bridge to the last verse in "To Step Aside"

    "Or will spring bring rain and summer burn…?" The string-synth run immediately preceding these words absolutely launches the final series of troubling questions posed by the Boys in this song, given even greater urgency by the recurring keyboard gallop underlying the lyrics, now sounding more insistent than ever.

  3. Neil's half-gasped multitracked "ohs" in "King of Rome"

    "Oh, baby come back…." It's such a heartbreaking plea because you know that it's totally in vain. Yet you don't even need the words to grasp that. Just the sound of it, frail and other-worldly, conveys a sense of utter despair.

  4. The background saxophone part in the last verse of "It Always Comes as a Surprise"

    "… If you've a broken heart, I'll help it mend." This unexpectedly jazzy touch grants lovely and wholly optimistic support to the narrator's heartfelt declaration of love. Add to that a subtle, almost imperceptible shift in the chord progression from what had occurred in the preceding verses, and you can't help but feel that his love will be fully returned.

  5. The final rendition of the chorus in "Birthday Boy"

    "Oh, baby, do you remember…." Powerful enough in its two previous renderings, but the third and final, backed by a choir—with Neil initially allowing his vocal to fall ever so slightly behind the tempo—is the most trenchant of all. It effectively dares you not to see the parallels between Jesus and modern-day victims of hatred and violence, and does so with a hymnal quality that wouldn't be out of place in a cathedral—or at least a cathedral in which synths, samplers, and guitars were more than welcome.

  6. The first chorus of "Hit and Miss"

    "… Waiting, I'd been waiting so long for this." What a wondrous chord progression! I just wanna melt. So lovely—some of the richest vocal harmonies ever found in a PSB track. And such a mix of emotions—joy and sorrow inextricably intertwined since one makes the other possible, if not inevitable. It's having been so sad that makes happiness all the sweeter; it's having been so happy that makes sadness so hard to bear.

  7. The concluding orchestral chords of "Left to My Own Devices"

    The orchestra speaks volumes throughout, transforming Neil's semi-autobiographical musings into a grandiose statement of personal independence. But it's those huge final chords that drive home the fact that every individual person's life is, after all, his or her own epic journey. Come to think of it—and harkening back to my college class in aesthetic philosophy—it may not actually be so beautiful as it is sublime.

  8. The recurring melodic bridge of "Give It a Go"

    "I'm not saying that you can't find yourself someone better…" and "You could be aiming for a cool type…." There's something about the Bacharachian combination of words, melody, harmonic progression, and musical arrangement in these portions of this criminally underrated song that gets me every time. They somehow simultaneously make me smile while forcing a bit of excess moisture to my eyes. Maybe it's the contrast found in these lines between seeming casualness and an underlying sense of near-desperation. Then again, the Boys said that they were aiming for a "happy-sad" mood for Elysium and even considered titling the album HappySad. I don't think any of its other moments better encapsulate that blend of emotions than this.