Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2012
Original album - Out of My Hands (Morten Harket)
Producer (PSB version) - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Elysium 2017 reissue bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with the single "Memory of the Future" (Pet Shop Boys)

Chris and Neil wrote and demoed this song during the early 2012 sessions for their album Elysium, but then decided to offer it to Morten Harket, the former lead singer of the Norwegian synthpop band A-ha, best known outside their native land for their big 1985 hit singles "Take on Me" and "The Sun Always Shines on TV." Harket himself is famed for what's described (quite accurately) in Wikipedia as his "extraordinary" vocal range, so powerfully exemplified in the falsetto notes he hits at the end of each chorus in "Take on Me."

Harket included this rich, evocative midtempo ballad on his fifth solo album, Out of My Hands, released in April 2012. He apparently initiated the contact with the Boys, approaching them with a request for a new song. According to the Boys' official website, they offered "Listening" to him because they felt it "would suit his voice." Considering that Neil has said, "Morten Harket has a fantastic voice and A-ha has been one of our favorite bands for many years," it's not surprising that they would respond favorably to his request. But, as they have done so often in the past, the Boys subsequently released their own version of the song, offering it as one of the bonus tracks on their single "Memory of the Future."

The song's melody is at times reminiscent of "I Get Along." Its lyrics indicate that the narrator is speaking to a friend or, more likely, lover who's reluctant to open up to him. He's feeling frustrated by what he apparently sees as the superficiality thus far in their relationship. As he puts it, "I know your taste in food and wine, but never really what's on your mind, what's going on inside your head." But the other person's reluctance is understandable; it stems from the fact that his or her confidence has been betrayed in the past. So, as described in the chorus, the narrator offers calm assurance that he's willing to listen patiently, non-judgmentally, and confidentially:

If you want me I will listen to your words
The dreams you have deferred
The battles fought
If it helps to take me to those dark extremes
The meaning of your dreams
The way you thought
Just talk, I'm listening

But if this promise to listen seems focused on the darker aspects of the soul, by song's end it takes on a much brighter, more hopeful hue. The narrator ultimately reveals his true goal (as if it were ever truly in doubt): "I wanna see you smile again." In effect, he offers himself, almost sacrificially, as a means through which his lover/friend can exorcise his or her demons and achieve happiness. But, of course, such a sacrifice has its own reward since his own happiness depends on that of the other person.

It's worth noting the slightly unusual A-A-B-C-C-B rhyme scheme of the verses, which persists with some metrical variation into the chorus. Neil also provides background vocals on Harket's version.



Officially released

Pet Shop Boys rendition:

Morten Harket rendition:

List cross-references