Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Pet Shop Boys ft. Years & Years – Dreamland

Featuring the passage of time itself…


Iain Mew: Dreamland to me instantly means Dreamland Margate, the theme park a few towns along the coast that I went to as a child. It was an exciting place of rickety wooden roller coasters and faded seaside glamour. I didn’t go many times before it closed down. A few years ago it was re-opened, a sympathetic reimagining that tries to mix nostalgia with clean modern design and style, to evoke cheeky postcard scenes without the unpleasant bits. I went there, took photos in giant deck chairs for Instagram, and went rollerskating in the same place as decades earlier, but to a soundtrack of Carly Rae Jepsen, followed by veggie Thai food instead of fish and chips. I can draw an equivalence between the new park and “Dreamland” here, casting Years & Years as the sympathetic modernisers (and the repeated “I don’t want to wake up” feels like a reversed nod to the past), though Pet Shop Boys never needed to close down or even to draw so heavily on nostalgia. Doing so plays on some strengths but makes them sound suddenly, weirdly muted and out of time. At least it’s in character for the song; they conjure a vague but wonderful place that exists outside of the concerns of visas and, ultimately, time and place, a dreamed paradise that never existed. “Dreamland” works best as melancholy denunciation of pining for an imagined superior past, rather more timely on the meta level. I didn’t need to be told that Olly Alexander was inspired by the same park. 

Thomas Inskeep: This is solid PSB with a wise feature from Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, which almost sounds like a changing of the guard for queer UK synthpop. The chorus is made of peanut butter, too — you’ll be humming it hours later.

Alfred Soto: Neil Tennant’s duet partners have mimicked his let’s-be-reasonable approach to romance even when the music loosens its top button. Until “Dreamland” Olly Alexander and restraint had never previously met, resulting in a quashed performance.

Katherine St Asaph: What is it about this subject that makes artists — Beyoncé also comes to mind — approach it with tentative singing? Dreams feel hyperreal, not half-real, and the music conveys plenty of that yearning, but something about the vocal is off. Not bad, just off — as if someone involved (Olly, I’d guess, only on grounds of relative inexperience) wasn’t quite in the right headspace.

Edward Okulicz: Longing and yearning is a good mood for Olly Alexander’s voice, and Neil Tennant certainly has form (you can draw a line from “Love Comes Quickly” and “Go West,” and this would sit in the middle). Tennant always had a shy, embarrassed reticence, which meant when he let loose his emotions it was special, whereas Alexander is much more an open book, so it’s an intriguing duet idea on paper. But “Dreamland” has some of the worst lyrics Tennant has written and a slapdash, cheap feel. Pity, the backing is kinda banging.

Scott Mildenhall: It follows that there was uncertainty over whose name this would be released under in the two and a half years since its writing, because it doesn’t immediately strike as quintessential of either act. Certainly, there can’t have been many Pet Shop Boys choruses this punchy, the title wrenched far from Neil Tennant’s range by Olly Alexander. Through him, “Dreamland”‘s desperation is most palpable, and while its lyrics could be — as by its writers — perceived as glib, it tells its story with a precision befitting two fine purveyors of one-word titles. At times they feel like an obvious combination, and at other times a faintly jarring one, but upon the toll of those cartoonishly imperial synths that have been a hallmark of the PSBs’ Stuart Price-produced work — here, halfway between Felix’s “Don’t You Want Me” and the 19th century — they ultimately coalesce.

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: This is so typical late-stage PSB that even Olly Alexander gets lost in the haze. This is not a complaint, at all.

Ian Mathers: As time passes it feels less and less distinctively like a Pet Shop Boys song, and what’s left isn’t bad, but I just need more unadulterated Neil Tennant Voice, you know?

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One Response to “Pet Shop Boys ft. Years & Years – Dreamland”

  1. iain!