Into Thin Air

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2016
Original album - Super
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

We can start with the exceedingly romantic notion of just, on the spur of the moment, up and deciding to get away from it all—not even bothering to pack a suitcase, not telling anyone that you're leaving, but just picking a destination at random, hopping on a plane, and flying off into the blue with the one you love. That's what the narrator of this song is proposing. I don't know about you and yours, but my partner would never consent to such a thing. For that matter, neither would I. It would be an extremely irresponsible thing to do. But it is, as I said, exceedingly romantic: the kind of thing people often dream about but very rarely ever actually do.

With this song, however, the Pet Shop Boys seem to imbue this exceedingly romantic notion with something more. It's this escapist fantasy elevated to near-mystical levels, expressing a desire to get away from a too often ugly reality, even if that escape is to nirvanic oblivion. "Shall we get away from here?" sings Neil, his mannered phrasing and vocabulary ("Shall we…?") suggesting a narrative persona who might have been more at home in an earlier, more dignified age and thus feels thoroughly out of place in this modern world. "Imagine how free we'll be if we disappear"—only there's no suggestion whatsoever of where "we" will disappear to. Yes, that's part of the romance: not knowing where. But listening to this song, one doesn't get a sense of any desire whatsoever to escape to any place in particular. "We'll vanish—no one will know where…. into thin air." Does "no one" include the narrator and his companion themselves? It's euphoric, cryptic, hypnotic, even a little frightening, all at the same time. And that, maybe more than anything else, is what makes this track absolutely sublime.

The language used in this song—not as much from what is said as from what isn’t said, specifically regarding a possible destination for this “getaway”—suggests a sort of self-induced, secular Rapture (with a capital R; see my annotation below). Note that, while Neil initially sings, “We'll vanish—no one will know where,” he subsequently changes it slightly, inserting one important word—“No one will ever know where”—thereby enhancing the sense of mystery, making it sound not so much like some temporary escape but rather a permanent, perhaps even eternal one.

The musical soundscape of the track lends powerful support to this song's enigmatic atmosphere. It doesn't sound particularly happy, but neither is it sad. Instead it sounds a bit eerie, other-worldly, yet in a compellingly attractive way. It's more like a somewhat dark, enchanted seduction, tempting us to abandon responsibility and convention, maybe even reality itself. The song and its narrator seem veritably to dissolve at the end, slowing down in tempo and slipping slightly out of tune, as if this proposed act of disappearing into thin air were already under way. The world is not enough.

Some fans have observed that "Into Thin Air" is the third PSB album-closer in less than a decade (the others being "Legacy" and "Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin") that suggests a "farewell" of some sort. To be sure, saying goodbye in one way or another is hardly an unusual thing for the concluding tracks of albums. It only makes sense, after all, and it's actually quite commonplace. Nevertheless, some have speculated whether such songs may be the Boys' gentle, gradual way of preparing their fans for the inevitable end of their career, whenever it may occur. Whatever the case, it's a stunning, breathtakingly imaginative closer to a marvelous album—especially in conjunction with its two immediate precedessors ("Say It to Me" and "Burn"), very nearly as remarkable in their own distinct ways—demonstrating that even thirty years after their first hit, the Pet Shop Boys are still masters of their art and craft.


List cross-references