Saturday, February 9, 2013

After You

This is not an entry I was expecting to write. When Pulp reunited, they were cagey if not fully uninterested when the subject of new material was broached. But, after playing one of their last shows of their reunion tour, in Sheffield of course, audience members for that show received a gift: A Christmas card with a download code for this song. It didn't take long for the song to spread around on the internet, so in early 2013, the band made it available to everyone via iTunes and Amazon.

Pulp diehards were familiar with this song even before these events. It was known to be a rejected demo from the We Love Life era. Nick Banks at one point called it “an absolute lost classic.” The demo surfaced on the internet a few years ago, and it definitely showed promise: a tentative disco beat, catchy guitar-Mellotron interplay, and a Jarvis lyric that searched for renewal on the dance floor. The latter, especially, signaled a possible return to the sound and concerns of ’89-’95 Pulp.

The version that the band released in 2012 made good on that promise. The band wisely hired James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to produce. He tightened the rhythm, making the song an explicit dance-floor burner. Murphy’s skill for dance-rock merges for the 21st century is well-known, so he was an apt choice to produce. The result allows Pulp to reclaim some well-deserved credit for their success as a dance band.

The furiously strummed acoustic guitar that opens the song might have been lifted from the original demo. Almost everything else sounds new, though. Jarvis slightly revised the lyric, set in a nightlife that moves from transcendent discos to prosaic grocery chains. No matter where he is, though, he is seemingly torn between two potential romantic partners – one from the past and one he’s just met (shades of “My Legendary Girlfriend”). Overall, the song is a triumphant return to form – no guarantee whenever a band reunites. If Pulp never records anything else again, this song is as good an example as any of their worth; their meld of rock, pop, dance, and probably a few other things as well, and Jarvis’ lyrical mix of desire, wit and panic, among other concerns. It has been always been, and hopefully always will be, a pleasure for me to delve into their work.

Last Day of the Miners Strike

A new song recorded for the band’s 2002 Hits compilation (which did not do well commercially), “Last Day of the Miners’ Strike” was, for a long time, the last word from Pulp, in terms of new recorded music. As befits a band’s farewell, the feel of the song is valedictorian and elegiac. It’s anthemic, without going out of its way to be approachable. The song never veers away from a repeating chord sequence. And yet the music rises and swells in a rousing, inspiring way. Jarvis loosely, obliquely charts his personal history and a general, awakening political consciousness, in relation to Sheffield. (The city’s Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985 is a significant piece of UK history. It’s also a fairly seminal moment in the band’s story, as seen in The Beat is the Law.)

At the song’s close, the theme becomes a clear: It’s another plea to move on from the past, to make something inspiring in the present. Jarvis reckons with his history – both in terms of his hometown and his band -- in order to put it behind him. It shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone that Pulp went on indefinite hiatus shortly after this song came out.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Here now is almost certainly the worst, most universally despised (by both band and fans) Pulp song. It’s to the band’s credit that it’s a mere b-side from the ‘80s, although it is still a mystery how it got released in the first place.

“Silence” is the only recording from the band’s oft-bootlegged Sudan Gerri demo tape to receive official release, on the “Master of the Universe” single. And it never was released again, on any Pulp reissues or compilations. Jarvis has admitted in interviews that he has forbidden it to be re-released; he’s as aware as anyone how terrible it is.

What’s so bad about this song? It’s a slow organ drone in which Jarvis moans tunelessly and humorlessly about a breakup. An out-of-tune hunting horn warbles in the background. The song is filled with morose, melodramatic self-pity, completely devoid of wit, nuance, bite, or anything else that characterizes Pulp at their best. “Silence” instead takes every element of Pulp’s gothy, arty period and executes them as incompetently as possible. It endures to this day as a camp artifact, the band’s very own Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Common People

Oh jeez, where to begin with this one, huh? Well, without this song, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Pulp. This blog certainly wouldn’t exist, and the band probably wouldn’t be currently embarking on a rapturously received reunion tour.

Seventeen years after its release, “Common People” is still a tricky thing to unpack. It applies the rage of punk rock to fabulous guitar-pop. It handily encompasses two of Jarvis’ main obsessions – class and sex. The song does this through the story of a Greek art student who expresses to Jarvis a desire to live fashionably poor. This inspires in him a brilliant, sustained rant against anyone who would think to live a life of working-class desperation casually, something for a curious outsider to try on like a trendy, faux-worn shirt.

If I am completely honest, I can’t describe this song better than this blog post by British music writer Dorian Lynskey. I would like to amplify, however, that the key line of the song isn’t when the girl says “I want to sleep with common people like you.” It’s near the end, when Jarvis, at the end of his rope, snaps, “You will never understand.” It’s pained and righteous, even if (or because) in some ways Jarvis’ own feelings about the working class are as confused as the girl’s.

“Common People” is also an example of a band seizing its moment at just the right instant. There are of course many, many YouTube videos related to this song, but here is the band’s famous rendition of the song at Glastonbury in 1995. The BBC documentary, The Story of “Common People” is excellent and required viewing for any Pulp enthusiast.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I am cheating a bit with this song. This is the only Pulp song I will write about here that is still technically unreleased. But while it’s never appeared on a Pulp album, single, anthology, or a multi-artist compilation, it was used in the Sheffield music documentary The Beat is the Law, a film that features a lot of Pulp info, as well as interviews with Jarvis and other members. Plus, the production company behind the film, Sheffield Vision, has posted the entire song on its YouTube page. So it is released in a way. And I can only assume it was all sanctioned by the band.

“Rattlesnake” was a key Pulp track even before all this, when it was just oft-bootlegged. Recorded at Sheffield’s prestigious FON Studios in 1987, it was the band’s first foray in a professional, state-of-the art facility, with session support from a small string section, to boot. With its rippling acoustic guitars, off-kilter keyboard stabs and Russell Senior’s enthused Euro-folk violin, the track is certainly miles above, fidelity wise, anything off of Freaks. (Plans to release “Rattlesnake” through FON’s label were unfortunately never realized, adding to the band’s streak of bad luck in the ‘80s.)

The track is well-regarded by many Pulp fans as a true lost classic. Like many of their songs from this era, the song is fraught with intrigue and drama, as Jarvis sings about a small quick moment that can suddenly change everything. In the case of “Rattlesnake,” he’s referring to a love affair, and he seems conflicted by intense feelings of both desire and fear; a potent combination, and a testament to Jarvis’ increasing skills as a lyric writer and singer. (It’s also a sign that he’s moved on from the self-indulgent, tone-deaf misery of many Freaks songs.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sink or Swim

In February of 2012, Fire Records reissued the 1983-1992 output of Pulp, again. They included some bonus tracks. However, this is the only song (if not recording) to be added on that was previously unreleased. “Sink or Swim” is an outtake from It. Like the songs from that album, it’s dominated by soft crooning from Jarvis. Unlike those other songs, there’s a prominent synth part, making it something of a bridge between the sound of the band’s first Peel Session in 1981, and the sound of the band they would become in the ‘90s.

Although “Sink or Swim” is a pretty mellow affair, it shares key elements with more immediately gripping Pulp songs. In a 1994 interview, Jarvis summarized the song’s theme as “standing on the threshold of life.” Maybe in a quiet way, this is Jarvis’ vow to avoid an easy conventional life, diving instead into uncertainty for the sake of art, and his dreams. Like, say, “Countdown” or “Monday Morning,” it deals with the struggle and fear that comes with trying to live a worthwhile life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

That Boy's Evil

Some of Pulp’s greatest songs are b-sides: “Blue Glow,” “Seconds,” “The Professional.” Then there’s this. Easily the most disposable of the This is Hardcore offcuts – if not of Pulp’s entire b-side oeuvre – “That Boy’s Evil” is basically a very low-rent Fatboy Slim impression, with a big beat supplemented by (probably sampled) ‘60s-style guitars, as a unidentified woman’s voice intones the title phrase every bar or so. There’s also a rather pointless interlude filled with snippets of conversation. It’s probably no coincidence that the band did not include this song on the deluxe edition of Hardcore. But at least it has some energy, and some novelty, so it’s not the absolute worst Pulp b-side. No, we’ll get to that soon.