Sunday, September 30, 2007


The first voice you hear on the second Pulp album is not Jarvis’, but rather that of Russell Senior, who also wrote the lyrics. Everything on this cacophonous ode to circus freaks reeks of low-budget, b-movie doom. Russell’s stentorian vocals open the song: “As the signs outside proclaimed, ‘Nature sometimes makes a mistake.’” It’s pretty indicative of Freaks as a whole. At times, the band approaches these gloom-laden sagas so mirthlessly, it’s almost impossible not to laugh. Fortunately, “Fairground” is also one of the few songs on the album where the band seems to be enjoying themselves, attacking the demonic laughter in the choruses with palpable relish.

Jarvis may have passed on vocal and lyric duties to his second-in-command, but his stamp is on the song anyway. He provides some carny announcements near the song's end, and it’s probably no small deal that the song’s concept inspired the album’s title and overriding theme. (“It was called Freaks because I'd been out of school four years and lived this marginal life with no success,” he told an interviewer in 1994.) In “Fairground,” Russell spends much of the lyrics reflecting not on the deformed circus attractions, but a man who laughs not only at the freaks, but at Russell and his sister as well. It’s one of the moments on the album that fully embodies the band’s outsider status. Freaks is easily the most difficult album of Pulp’s career; I’m rarely able to listen to the whole thing myself. But I bet it’s as good as any document of what it was like to be weird, different and broke in England in the ‘80s.

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