Thursday, October 25, 2007

Laughing Boy

It’s easily the only Pulp song to feature a country-style pedal steel guitar part (played by one Gerry Hogan). “Laughing Boy” nevertheless cancels out any lingering taste of roots-rock by also prominently featuring synths and electronic drums. The end result is another of the band’s effortlessly world-weary, last-call ballads. Jarvis sounds utterly defeated as the losing, constantly humiliated member of a love triangle. Even his sarcastic put-downs -- referring to the other man by the title, calling out the woman for the cleanliness of her teeth -- don’t offer much catharsis. He realizes, “I must go,” but the song ends with him endlessly wondering if he actually has it in him to carry that threat out.

The band must’ve thought pretty highly of “Laughing Boy.” It’s one of the few Pulp b-sides to occasionally show up in a live setting. Thus, a performance of the song appears on the band’s concert film The Park is Mine.

One more thing: Does anyone with more knowledge about (presumably) British terminology know what it means to “ladder your tights”?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


On Different Class, Jarvis partially sealed his fame with observations of affairs of the bedroom that were both wry and matter-of-fact. “Underwear” is the song where it all coalesces. In one light, it’s the most salacious song on the album; in another, it’s the most affecting.

“In sexual situations, underwear is the last line of defense,” Jarvis explained at one live gig. The woman described in the song, “semi-naked in someone else’s room,” is feeling especially vulnerable, not just because of the loss of most of her clothes, but also because her sudden feelings of apprehension and doubt. As is his wont, Jarvis approaches this scenario not gingerly, but with a sympathetic eye all the same. When, on the third verse, he gently tells the woman to “remember that this is what you wanted last night,” the song ties in with the themes of second half of Different Class, the way the supposed freedoms of young adulthood often fall short of expectations.

Compounding the doubt and confusion of the song, Jarvis sings it from the point of view of someone who ardently desires to be with her in such a situation. So while his end proclamation, “I want to see you in your underwear” could conceivably sound seedy, instead it gains an odd longing. “Underwear” is a song with two protagonists, both of whom are at that moment not where they want to be.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


“A real kitchen sink drama,” writes Jarvis in the liner notes for this track originally on the Dogs are Everywhere EP. Scenes of domestic intrigue occur all over Pulp’s discography. Later, more famous attempts displayed the musical influence of Scott Walker, David Bowie and Roxy Music; “Aborigine” is a transparent, but very good appropriation of Joy Division’s sound. There’s a relentless rhythm section and choppily dramatic guitar riffs. Jarvis, perhaps advisably, sings a one-note melody. The lyrics are dependably bleak, with a chorus of “He hates his life/ And he hates them all.” Still, “Aborigine” has a real energy, and groove, making it just a little less claustrophobic than most mid-‘80s Pulp. The song “was so called because it sounded like aboriginal music,” Jarvis later said.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Boss

With the 2006 release of the Deluxe Editions, a few tracks that were previously only known in lo-fi bootleg live recordings emerged in full-fledged studio guises. Or at least as demos. “The Boss” initially emerged in a ragged but enthused concert incarnation. Introduced by Jarvis as a song about “wondering about someone’s who going out with your ex-girlfriend or your ex-boyfriend”, the song is a typically exciting Pulp song of the early ’90, with a speeded disco beat, insistent Farfisa, and Jarvis saying “ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma,” a lot. Despite the bad sound quality, it sounds like a single. The studio version (from the band’s “audition tape” for Island Records) builds on this potential. It’s not fully finished; the lazily repetitive guitar line betrays the demo-ness. But Jarvis strings a compelling storyline of panic, sexual confusion and escape, and the band makes these emotions sound exhilarating. On trains and in hotels, Jarvis can’t help but bump into (or imagine) his ex and her new lover. It’s enough to convince him to get out of his current surroundings – a resolution we’ve heard from him plenty times before.

In case you wondered, it’s titled “The Boss” because, Jarvis claims, the band thought it sounded like Bruce Springsteen. (It doesn’t.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bad Cover Version

This song just might’ve been Pulp’s last chance. Another sweeping ballad possibly musically inspired by Gene Pitney, “Bad Cover Version” was a last-ditch attempt at getting a hit single out of We Love Life. Nevertheless, despite one of the greatest music videos ever, it was not to be, and “Bad Cover Version” is to date the final Pulp single. It’s oddly appropriate for a track that manages to singularly combine snideness and melancholy. Jarvis marshals every last withering put-down – including some of the most obscure pop-culture references to appear in a rock song – in order to catalog all the ways an ex’s new lover unfairly compares to him. But the majestic ache of the melody only makes him sound more alone, as he lingers on every “great disappointment.” The fact that Pulp themselves were on the way out increases the bittersweetness. Now, six years later, with young, hot, less talented bands like Franz Ferdinand and The Long Blondes liberally copying pages from the Pulp textbook, the song stings even more.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


For the B-sides to the ’93 “Razzmatazz” single, Jarvis indulged his literary ambitions with Inside Susan: A story in three songs. (A fourth part showed up as a B-side to another single.) The first part, “Stacks” could’ve been an A-side in its own right. While the rhythms shimmy and the stylophones bleep, Jarvis saucily unfolds a tale on burgeoning teenage hormones. In one light, “Stacks” could be a dry run for “Disco 2000.” It’s clear that Susan has captured the boys’ attentions just as Deborah did in the latter song. But whereas “Disco 2000” collects memories of adolescence, “Stacks” occurs in the present tense. And so, along with the descriptions of lust, there are reminders that “the world is bigger every day.” Susan’s opportunities seem limitless. For now, anyway.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My First Wife

One of the roughly recorded early live songs floating around the internet, “My First Wife” appeared on a compilation cassette, Oozing Through the Ozone Layer, put together in 1987 by future Pulp member Mark Webber. The band’s evolving interest in mixing disco and Eastern European folk is on full-display here. The lyrics are mostly unintelligible, apart from Jarvis’ constant exhortation, “I won’t think of love.” The song comes alive mid-way through, when new member Nick Banks lets out a frantic eight-bar snare volley. It’s not virtuosic, but it’s definitely lends the song some extra energy.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Love Love

The strangest disconnect on It occurs here, where Jarvis’ croon seems wholly at odds with the almost ridiculous music-hall pastiche of the melody. With its goofy clarinet and trombone, “Love Love” could easily become a Brit-com theme song. Jarvis’ pontifications on romance feel unfinished, or maybe just playful. The first verse alludes to a scenario Jarvis would later flesh out on “Acrylic Afternoons.” The second verse incongruously describes Jarvis and his lover jumping into a pond after the ducks scornfully reject their offered breadcrumbs.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Don't You Want Me Anymore?

An arch tango that nevertheless avoids sounding too chilly – thanks perhaps to the acoustic guitar – “Don’t You Want Me Anymore?” can be read two ways.

A) It’s a simple character piece by Jarvis, about a poor, deluded character who thinks he’ll be returning home to the arms of an ex-lover. Instead he finds that she’s moved on to another man, and our narrator is reduced to nothing but a laughing stock. No one has any time for him anymore.

B) It’s a reflection of Jarvis’ experiences in the late ’80. Having put Pulp on hold to attend film school at St. Martins College in London in 1988, Jarvis returns to Sheffield, hoping that maybe this time the band will rise in triumph, and he’ll be accorded the fame, respect and love he deeply craves. But everyone has moved on to other bands, and our narrator is reduced to nothing but a laughing stock. No one has any time for him anymore.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Little Soul

Because it’s maybe the prettiest song on This Is Hardcore, it’s also one of the bleakest. At the time of its release, many critics theorized that “A Little Soul” addressed Jarvis’ relationship with his then-estranged father. I happen to think the song is more a fictional but cautionary tale Jarvis wrote to himself.

If anyone needs any indication of just how despondent Jarvis Cocker felt at the tail-end of his time as a bona fide celebrity, just listen. He’s all but ready to find himself in the scenario of this song, wearily lifting his head up from the bar to see, at the other end, a young, cocksure player and serial heartbreaker. “Hey man, how come you treat your woman so bad?” And he can easily imagine the horrifying realization that this cavalier, uncaring ladies’ man is his long-abandoned son. He’d try and set the boy back on the right pack… if he had any idea how to find that path himself. But he’s already resigned himself to a life of dissipated, quiet ruin and can only urge the kid to just get away from his old man.

The song is all the more heartrending thanks to the opening guitar riff, an easily detected rethink of “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. That song is one of greatest about a man hiding his emotions. “A Little Soul,” on the other hand, is about a man trying desperately to remember how to have emotions. The simple beauty of the melody and arrangement keeps the song from being an unpleasant slog through Jarvis’ sense of self-loathing. It instead becomes, in the context of the album, one final, necessary descent into the wells of despair, before finally looking for a way out.

Watch the video here.