How Pet Shop Boys Pointed Me toward Progressive Rock

The venerable British electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys was one of the first English-speaking musical act that I was exposed to.  “It’s a Sin” was the very first song (I had no idea that it was about rebelling against religious boarding school) that came into my orbit (probably on a mixtape from a friend) and to this day I love that and every other track on the Actually album.

But some time thereafter I got the following album, Introspective.  Clocking in at six songs all seven minutes or longer, this was my first experience with extended pop songs.

I recall being mesmerized at how these songs seemed to breathe.  They were in no rush to to go from one section to the next, and that worked to build up anticipation for what’s come to next.  My favorite moment was the epic cover of “Always on My Mind” (Again, I had no idea it was a cover — or what a “cover” was).  Around 5:25, after a period of slow breakdown that ends in minimal and static beats, an electronic drum fill gives way to the triumphant return of the main melody.  That moment gave me such chills — and it still does.

It was years later that I realized how this album was formative in my pursuit of progressive rock.  There are many schools of prog rock but one of the common characteristics is venturing off of the tried-and-true verse-chorus structure.  And our penchant for longer songs.

I’d like to think of these extended songs like a full-course dinner.  It’s not necessary but when you take the time to engage in and savor the slower but fuller exploration, it feels much more satisfying than a regular 3-minute pop song, which seems like a one-dish, quick meal.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy short songs.  But as a musicmaker I take joy in crafting pieces that stretch out to realize the full potential of the material within.  Climaxes feel bigger if you take time to build anticipation for it.  Punchlines hit harder when it’s reserved to a conclusion of a longer journey.

Below is my latest single “Can You Love a Landmine?”  Even at 10+ minute length, I feel that this song goes by fast, with every section serving a vital role in telling the whole story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I was making it.