The Pet Shop Boys recently debuted a piece about Alan Turing, He Dreamed of Machines. In a special concert with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Neil Tennant revealed that this is just one part of what will be a larger biographical piece about Turing. It will be known as, A Man From The Future.
For those of you who like the PSB and know anything about Turing, this is a really cool thing. Alan Turing is a World War II hero. The PSB deserves credit for paying homage to our famous codebreaking gay forefather. Still, a little warning is in order. It is hard to say this about a talented music duo working on a serious project of this sort, but He Dreamed of Machines is not their best work. I will say more below.
I want so badly to like this song. I like the PSB in general, but there are some things to be said about why this song doesn't quite deliver. In the interest of holding back my bitchy inner gay, I will restrict myself to two points.
We have come to a strange day in history when it is possible for techno music to sound dated. Unfortunately, I don't think that's what the PSB were going for. It feels like some 70's retro-future is rubbing its polyester onesie all over me. Now I don't mind when the polyester onesie belongs to Ziggy Stardust, but it feels wrong in a contemporary song, which I think was intended as a somber and inspirational homage. I take some small relief knowing that the person who compiled background images for the youtube link must have picked up on this 70's-future feeling as well.
It is strange, because the PSB's newer album Elysium doesn't sound at all like this. Of course Neil is singing there and properly synthesized, which might be the biggest problem with He Dreamed of Machines. Skip to about 2:52 in the song and listen to the long and melodramatic monologue. It might seem out of place, as apparently PSB lifted most of the monologue right from the biography. Despite all my best efforts to resist, all I can think of when I hear the monolgue is the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap.
Now before I start feeling worse about not respecting a band that contains a prestigious gay man, who in turn is attempting to respect another even more prestigious gay man, I will stop. I hope others feel differently about this song and find more pleasure in it than I have.