30 May 2006

Where does the time go? Four years ago, back when I'd never heard of hedge funds and Noah was still blogging occasionally, in the very first entry on this blog, I wrote a rather disappointed review of Release, the new Pet Shop Boys album, and concluded:
The Pet Shop Boys have made some of the most moving, exciting, intelligent dance albums of the past fifteen years (notably "Introspective," "Behavior" and "Bilingual"), and while I'm looking forward to seeing them at their upcoming concert here in Boston, I'm hoping for a return to classic form for their next album, whenever (and if ever) that happens.
Well, that concert is ancient history, along with the 21-year-old Harvard senior who wrote that paragraph, and guess what? There's finally a new Pet Shop Boys album, Fundamental, and it's great. "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show" is the best song they've had in years, and it opens with a line that makes me laugh out loud: "I lived a quiet life, a stranger to champagne / I never dared to venture out to Cities of the Plain." (Maybe you need to be a Proust fan...) It's also incredibly sad. I had been hoping for a big messy love song with an orchestra and all-male chorus to pull me out of my current emotional holding pattern, but instead, the Pet Shop Boys have given us a political album, of all things, with wistful heartbreak binding together the rage.

It worries me. Why? The Pet Shop Boys may not provide the soundtrack to my emotional life the way they once did, but there's no question that of all the music I enjoy, their songs are the most fraught with memories. Take Release, for example. It's a mediocre album, but I find it incredibly moving, because I can't listen to the song "Birthday Boy" without being reminded of my first unemployed summer in New York; "Here" without remembering a particular afternoon that I spent alone in the Smyth Classical Library; and "You Choose" without recalling an evening in which I played that song for a special friend, who replied, "I think it's ironic." Every one of their albums is like this. I've got a Pet Shop Boys song associated with every moment in my life from age seven ("It's a Sin") to five minutes ago ("I Made My Excuses and Left").

Listening to Fundamental (another great title, by the way), I realized something frightening. When I listen to this album again in five or ten years, I'm going to become nostalgic about this moment—the weird year when I'd quit my hedge fund job and was living in Brooklyn trying to write a novel about India. I'm going to think about my twenty-sixth birthday (tomorrow) and Tamara's wedding (this weekend) and get choked up over how young we all were. And you know what? I'll bet I'd give anything to come back to this moment. That's the trouble with Fundamental. In retrospect, it's going to be a wonderful soundtrack to this period in my life, but it isn't likely to grab me and throw me into a new life altogether, which is something that I once believed pop music could do. With apologies to Natalie Portman in Garden State, I'm not sure that's true anymore.

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