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I  was a teenager during the supposed mediocre chart years of the eighties, those empty and unstoppable consumerist times. What was I to know? Those were the songs that gave comfort, brief moments of hope while staring out of a rain bejewelled car window, on a family holiday convinced, correctly, that life was happening elsewhere. These were the songs I broke my heart against, while dreaming of the chance to become one of the broken hearted. I lived in my mind and in those songs, in the synth-driven drama of It’s a sin, in the splendour and grace of Welcome to the pleasure dome. They fed my romantic illusions; sound-tracked the life I wished I led.

Then the nineties; while attention was distracted from the charts by the ecstasy of Acid House, something changed, singles suddenly matured, lyrics reflected a change in mood, yearning lay beside these modern e-fed rhythms. The sequencer lines grew deeper, and from the sudden shadow of aids came some of the finest pop music made: Unfinished sympathy, Justify my love, U2’s One, Bassomatic’s Fascinating rhythm, Saint Etienne’s Join our club, Duran’s Come undone and most of all Pet Shop Boys’ Being boring. I knew no one who had died of AIDS, but I was watching the death of my own childhood and feared the demands to come; I knew there was no going back, for the first time I realised what it meant to be alive and fearful. Being boring reflected this.

When Being boring was released it sounded like a different band, the sound was autumnal. From the moment the synth strings catch up with the incessant wah-wah of JJ Belle’s guitar you are lost in sumptuous electronica. It is the warmth of the song, which is so disarming, so much for cold soulless dance music. Their career highlight thus far, a pinnacle of autobiographical lyrics, and reflective production. It was even shunned by the single buying public, which unusually for a chart band gave it a sense of exclusivity and feeling of intimacy. The song even had the most unlikely devotees, Axl Rose and Lloyd Cole, who covered it live after Neil Tennant hastily wrote down the chords on a restaurants serviette.

It is a sudden realisation that pop music with all its gaudiness, could also be haunting and disturbingly beautiful; subtle, catchy, no longer irritating and cutting a relentless groove which purrs with elegance, a song which changes each time you hear it; tireless. With the conflict between the melancholia of the words and ecstasy of the tune it matches the greatest of art, your heart torn between sadness and happiness, caught in the grasp of life itself. As the verse in minor key ends, time stands still, then the key changes up to major for the joyous chorus you were silently praying would happen. Strength of great pop songs is demonstrated by the inability to remix them, and nothing has improved on the original. The de-coda “we were never feeling bored” touches the elusive eternal beat and sweeps out on the coat tails of hopeless celebration; relinquishing all sense of doom despite everything; pop music victorious.

Tom Hocknell.

[The above article was written in 2002. As of 23rd July, 2003, Tom Hocknell lives in London and is writing his second novel, while looking for an agent to represent his first.]

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