Monday, December 22, 2008

The Babysitter

A little over a year after the Inside Susan trilogy, Jarvis and the band decided to add a fourth chapter to the character’s story. Lyrically, “The Babysitter” is the most minimalistic of the Susan songs, as Jarvis briefly and subtly describes how she finds herself rejected by her husband in favor of the family babysitter, who resembles Susan in her younger days. Jarvis ably sketches this sordid yet heartbreaking scenario with economical wording. Additionally, the track contains some thrillingly chaotic instrumental sections, dominated by crazed drums and Stylophone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Inspired by a Serge Gainsbourg song of the same name, this mid-‘80s b-side/compilation track possibly points towards the Euro-folk-leaning tracks on Separations. “Manon” contains a careful, eerie arrangement nearly spoiled, once again, by Jarvis’ vocals. In later interviews, he’d rue his decision to sing in French in the song’s finale. Additionally, he admitted that he wrote the morbid lyrics under the erroneous assumption that “Manon” was a man’s name.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

David's Last Summer

His ‘n’ Hers closes with this seven-minute song which, despite its epic nature, remains of a piece with the rest of the album, giving the quotidian an eerie, almost poetic quality. Jarvis recites most of the lyrics, describing the activities of a young couple in first person, so we can assume that he is “David.” The words get a little lost in Ed Buller’s echoing, cavernous production, but they may be some of the most unabashedly romantic lines you’ll find in Pulp’s canon. It is only at the end, when Jarvis fearfully notes the looming end of summer -- and with it the end of this relationship -- that the true weight of this experience becomes apparent. The rest of Pulp provide an expertly dramatic musical backing, culminating in a frenzied climax that’s driven by some intense fire extinguisher-playing from Nick Banks.

“David’s Last Summer” is equally resonant in almost metaphorical sense. Near the end, Jarvis describes “summer packing its bags and preparing to leave town.” And in many ways, Pulp would do the same, adjusting their focus from the provincial to the metropolitan on the bulk of their next album, Different Class.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


“Yesterday” comes from the same aborted We Love Life sessions as “Forever in My Dreams,” but it’s a deeply inferior song. While the latter is one of Pulp’s most sublime and deeply moving hidden tracks, “Yesterday” is wan, rote and uninspired, from the bland guitar riff that opens the song through Jarvis’ distracted delivery of one of his few bland lyrics. It’s not the most original idea for a song – a pep talk urging someone to let go of the past. Jarvis has generally had little trouble revitalizing once-hackneyed song ideas with wit and imagination. Not this time. At least the band knew well enough to give the song a fairly wide berth, on the b-side to “Bad Cover Version,” along with “Forever in My Dreams,” but they could have gone further and left the song in the vaults. There are lost songs from this era, such as “The Quiet Revolution” and “Cuckoo Song,” that also leave “Yesterday” in the dust.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

There's No Emotion

Another miserable Freaks song, this one dedicated to pinpointing the exact moment that a particular relationship dies. Truth is, the melody to this one is actually quite lovely, and it sounds like at least a little time went into the arrangement. The failure of this song is all due to Jarvis’ mid-‘80s vocal deficiencies. His mannered croon cannot even begin to locate the delicate tenor of the song. Vocally, he’s totally upstaged by none other than Candida Doyle, who provides one of her rare, whispered harmony lines on the chorus, and she’s the one, more than any other player, grounding the song with a recognizable, relatable sentiment.

By the way, as you may notice on the upper right side, you can now sign up to this blog’s network on Facebook. If you’re willing and able, I highly encourage you to do so!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Like a Friend

One of the nice things about a blog – unlike a book or a thesis – is that it’s okay to change your mind and willingly contradict yourself. So, did I say “Disco 2000” was Pulp’s best chance for a U.S. hit? Eh, maybe I spoke too soon. “Like a Friend” is also pretty damn catchy, featuring one of the band’s most rousing performances. Plus, the song was attached to the 1998 film of Great Expectations – starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert DeNiro – which I recall getting a lot of publicity at the time, although I’m not sure how well it’s remembered now. The band made a video interspersed with clips from the film, but perhaps that doesn’t really matter in the long run.

The real strength of “Like a Friend” is its mix of catchy melodies – in the song’s languorous and anthemic sections – with Jarvis’ pithy metaphors on a timeless theme: the codependency of friendship. Although the song doesn’t really have a chorus, it builds to a real fist-pumping kind of coda, and Jarvis’ lyrics are witty and concise, covering a universal topic that probably doesn’t get as much play in modern pop music as it should.

In addition to appearing on a soundtrack and a b-side, “Like a Friend” also showed up as the last track on the U.S. version of This Is Hardcore, where I think it actually fits very well as a kind of encore track. Still, we’re going with the British track listings for this blog, so I’m not tagging it as a TIH track.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Everybody's Problem

This 1983 single came to pass after the band’s then-manager suggested Jarvis try writing something Wham-esque. The result makes you wonder if Jarvis had actually ever heard Wham. Aside from a vaguely faux-Motown rhythm, this is still a fairly weedy example of early-‘80s British indie, lacking the big, brash hooks that George Michael and Andrew Ridgely so reliably provided. And I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Wham songs with prominent trombone parts. The lyrics sketch out a breakdown in interpersonal communication with some measure of wit but no conciseness, no catchy pay-off line. Jarvis would eventually master such things, but not for some time.

Like this single’s infinitely superior b-side, “There Was,” “Everybody’s Problem” turned up on the 2000 soundtrack to Schooldisco, whatever that is.

So, you’re probably wondering what happened to this blog. It just went on hiatus, really. My official excuse involves a combination of work, the World Series (yay these guys!) and the U.S. Presidential Election (yay this guy!). But I think I also just needed a break. For the time being, I hope to post at least once a week. Hopefully in the new year, I’ll get back up to two or three times a week, and finish the blog out in style!

Monday, September 15, 2008


More foreboding tidings from the ‘80s; as was their custom at this time, Pulp create a convincing sense of menace on this track. Celestial organ and dulcimer give rise to a steadily increasing intensity. Jarvis’ spoken verses convey the moment just before sleep, but something is not quite right. The sung chorus is less effective, thanks to his usual pitch problems of this era. Fortunately, in the song’s last few minutes, his voice fades in the mix, giving focus to the band’s vehemence.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Watching Nicky

Like “You’re Not Blind,” this demo appears to be another embryonic version of “Babies.” Nick Banks wrote the central guitar riff that these songs share, which explains the title at least superficially. Jarvis claimed the song concerned an ex-girlfriend, although certain details – giving up an artistic career to raise a child – resemble the biography of Jarvis’ own mother. So “Watching Nicky” also incorporates the scenario of “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes).” The song is certainly catchy – that guitar is quite alluring, after all – but it’s not quite the sum of its parts, and certainly lacks the unique kick of “Babies.” All in all, good thing they went back to the drawing board with this one.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Disco 2000

If any Pulp single was ever to be a hit in the U.S., I guess this would have been it. After all, not only is “Disco 2000” loaded with monster hooks, but the most monstrous, most gigantic of those hooks is a nod to a very recognizable U.S. hit. The opening riff to “Disco 2000” blatantly references Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit “Gloria,” and Jarvis alludes to it as well with some of his phrasing choices. But of course it wasn’t really a hit in the U.S. Although the grunge era was waning by this point, perhaps we still weren’t quite ready to embrace a rock song that wittily recalled the early '80s without devolving into smug irony and distance.

Of course, the song is more than just its pop-culture reference. “Disco 2000” occurs in the middle of Different Class, in the section that addresses love and longing. Here, Jarvis approaches the subject from an almost guilelessly naïve perspective. The narrator on the song carries a torch for his very first crush from childhood, a girl named Deborah. Back then, he thought there was a chance, and now, crazily enough, he still thinks so, trying desperately to arrange for a rendezvous at some half-remembered spot he claims to have suggested way back when. The song conveys all this, plus some expertly sketched memories of adolescent hormonal craziness, with Pulp’s patented mix of big pop cheer and deep, neurotic sadness.

The video tells a completely different storyline. It also features the single mix of the song, which adds extra keyboards, backing vocals and other changes. It’s very catchy, but in some ways it’s not quite Pulp. As contrast, here's a live version performed on MTV.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Nights of Suburbia

This song is hardly related at all to the groovily sinister “Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia).” “Nights of Suburbia” is another nervous Euro-goth exercise, with Jarvis moaning unpleasantly about something-or-other. He seems especially keen to let us know, time and again, that “the virgins became whores” on this song. The song came to light in a lo-fi live recording on a 1987 compilation tape, See You Later, Agitator! And now you can download it from PulpWiki.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Seductive Barry

Like “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” this is obviously a seduction song that, on the face of it, doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the overriding concept of the surrounding album. This Is Hardcore examines at once the allure of desire, and the toll it takes. “Seductive Barry” spends almost all of its 8-plus minutes reveling purely in the allure, so much so that it doesn’t quite fit. Additionally, the song is uniquely what you might call a single-entendre Pulp song. On “My Legendary Girlfriend” and “I Spy,” Jarvis uses sex to talk about Sheffield and class. On “Seductive Barry,” he uses sex to talk about sex. It’s only at the very end that we get an indication that things are maybe not what they seem here: “And if this is a dream, then I’m going to sleep for the rest of my life.”

The triumph of this track is musical, as the band creates an enveloping sound where programmed and more traditional parts merge together harmoniously. The song builds slowly, but reaches a delicious payoff at the, er, climax.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Will to Power

The first Pulp song released with a Russell Senior lead vocal. Senior attempted here to get inside the mindset of a humiliated failure of a man who has decisively turned to fascism. It should be noted that Senior was a pretty committed socialist at this point, and decidedly not a Nazi. He describes his motives for writing this song in more detail in Mark Sturdy’s Pulp bio, Truth and Beauty, which in fact gets its title from this song. Fascism is a subject matter that Jarvis might’ve found difficult, so a far less accomplished writer like Senior ultimately brings very little insight. Instead, there are laughable lines like “Weak flesh projected through Europe on speed of all needs.” Although the song itself is no great shakes, the band manages to turn in an appealingly intense performance that does a much better job of conveying a sudden rise of violence.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Death Comes to Town

I’m not exactly sure what drew Jarvis to the persona of the Grim Reaper for a series of songs but, as he himself would probably tell you, he was in a pretty weird state in the ‘80s. “Death Comes to Town” features the morbid storytelling of Freaks, but in a disco setting that points directly to the Separations era. I’m pretty sure this is the first Pulp studio recording to feature Nick Banks on drums.

It’s actually only a demo, and it didn’t see the light of day till 2005, when it appeared on a CD that came with the book Beats Working For a Living: Sheffield Popular Music 1973-1984 by Martin Lilleker. (Oddly, this demo was recorded sometime around 1986-87.) What’s most strange is that the remix of “Death Comes to Town,” entitled “Death Goes to the Disco” is way easier to find. So much so, it gets a separate entry on PulpWiki. I’m going to follow their cue, and write about the remix on another post.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wishful Thinking

On Pulp’s first album, this song opens with a simple but brilliantly effective arrangement, as guitar and piano intertwine. “Wishful Thinking” finds Jarvis admitting feelings of loneliness and desire with admirable honesty, if only he had found a more elegant way of expressing them. Here, Jarvis manages to exclaim “It turned me on,” not once but twice, without a trace of the winking lasciviousness he would later master. His constant chorus of “I’ve got this love inside of me,” delivered at a painful pitch alongside one of his most twee melodies, doesn’t help matters. Then there’s the flute solos. And yet, I find this song’s gawky charm endearing. But then, I’m a diehard fan.

Prior to It, an earlier incarnation of Pulp recorded this song for their first Peel Session. In some ways, this is the superior version, with a rickety drum beat and atmospheric synths to give to song some urgency, maybe even something approximating an edge.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


This is my favorite Pulp song, a perfect piece of pop that manages to be both dour and uplifting. Musically, it’s another great example of the band’s mid-‘90s aesthetic: an uncomplicated, simply played song, but with the execution and right production touches, it becomes the stuff of great drama. “Lipgloss” has all the bleak but sympathetic imagery of a Mike Leigh film, but one with a soundtrack by Roxy Music. Jarvis looks at a woman undone by a dissolved romance. His lyrics perfect capture the feelings of shame and self-loathing that gnaw at the woman. And he delivers this with a knowledge that indicates that he knows exactly how this feels all too well.

I’ve been thinking lately just how powerful the payoff line of the chorus is. “There’s something wrong/ You had it once, but now it’s gone.” On paper, it sounds matter-of-fact, brusque even. But it’s also the most universal line in the song; even if you’ve never suffered a broken heart in this precise way, something in your life has probably gone so wrong so fast you never had a chance to figure out what exactly happened. And that line, combined with the whirlwind thrill of the music, captures that exact feeling.

Lots of good YouTubes of the song: the video; an amazing TV performance; a great rendition with the band flanked by dancing audience members; and footage of Jarvis recording a synth overdub.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Erection

A bouncy would-be pop song gets thoroughly perverted on this Hardcore-era demo. “My Erection” has an almost identical instrumental lineup as “Ladies’ Man” – right down to Jarvis’ thoroughly vocoder-ized vocals, an apparent effort to “completely erase my personality.” As a result his vocals are even more impenetrable than on "Ladies' Man. Suffice to say there’s more than a little grunting and moaning, all rendered positively slithery by the effects. The This Is Hardcore reissue booklet does include lyrics for the song, in which the titular, um, item provides the narrator with a sense of, er, direction. But good luck figuring out how to sing along. Although the song seems a bit tossed off, its demented sense of sleaze feels genuine and well-earned.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

59 Lyndhurst Grove

We’ve reached the final part of the Inside Susan trilogy. (Read about the first two parts here and here.) Anyone relatively familiar with Jarvis’ lyrical perspective won’t be surprised to learn that, in adulthood, Susan has reached a life of stifling domestic inertia. Stuck in a passionless marriage, she’s taken a lover. Despite this seemingly basic scenario, Jarvis adds some unique, finely observed details. Take note of his first-verse description of a party where “they were dancing with children round their necks/ Talking business, books and records, art and sex.” Jarvis’ remarks on the inspiration for this song are worth reading. Check out a live performance of the song here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Deep Fried in Kelvin

At nine minutes and 48 seconds, this b-side handily earns the distinction of being Pulp’s longest song. Like most long Pulp songs, it also serves as an opportunity for an extended Jarvis monologue, this one about the squalor and hopelessness of Sheffield council estates. Here, Jarvis focuses his ire on Kelvin Flats, which were apparently especially dismal. While his diatribe is at times impenetrable sans lyric sheet, it melds perfectly with the band’s performance, a superior ebb and flow driven by a guitar line that’s both cheesy and ominous. At times, “Deep Fried in Kelvin” seems almost trance-inducing; you can even forget that it’s nearly ten minutes long. As it approaches provincial concerns with a cinematic sense of scope, the song found its way into theaters, via a scene in The Full Monty. And you gotta love the fake-out ending.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forever in My Dreams

Another We Love Life also-ran hinting at a compelling direction the band could have headed towards. This b-side dates to the early sessions for the album, before producer Chris Thomas was sent packing. Opening with a sampled loop of distant music, the music swells as each detail is added – spaghetti-western guitars, celestial keyboards, and a stirring rhythm. Jarvis sings about a love that isn’t fleeting, even if he still hedges at “forever”; in fact he spends much of the song casting aspersions on the idea of it. The title indicates that he regards the concept as a mere fantasy. But despite his cynicism, in this song he looks to a woman to make “forever” seem tangible, something worth reaching for. He can’t help but temper some of his most unabashedly romantic lines with an edgy turn-of-phrase: “And I love and respect you/I will honor and obey/ But baby will I marry you?/ Well, that will be the day.” But despite that, the overall tone of “Forever in My Dreams” speaks to hope and promise. It just acknowledges fickle human behavior as well. But it’s one of the most stirring songs they made and, as often is this case, it didn’t necessarily need to languish as a b-side.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Do You Say?

The first Pulp song ever released, appearing on a compilation entitled Your Secret’s Safe with Us. The sound of the song is twitchy and doomy – very Factory Records. As a lyricist, Jarvis has already acquired a sense of ambition, sketching a macabre scenario in which he wakes to realize he’s literally changed into another person. Is he thinking along the lines of a less gruesome version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis? Or maybe it’s an inadvertent precursor to the movie Big. Jarvis would have been around 18 when this song came out. Maybe he’s reflecting on adolescence, and the emotional and physical upheavals that come with it. Here he takes that feeling, and transports it into the realm of horror, making the metaphor into something concrete. He truly wants to contemplate -- not only for himself but for those around him -- what it would mean to become another person.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


“The muse was with us then.” So says Russell Senior regarding the creation of this track in Mark Sturdy’s Truth and Beauty: The Story of Pulp. “Tunnel” is definitely a unique entry in Pulp’s discography – an eight-minute, pummeling, discordant epic. Driven by Peter Mansell’s driving bass – an instrument rarely given center-stage during this era of the band – “Tunnell” is a harsh rumination of the band’s feelings of dislocation and confusion. Jarvis’ panicked monologue seems to be delivered through a faulty megaphone, distorting and cutting out throughout the song. It sounds like an accurate depiction of some pretty dark minds. And yet, there’s something missing about the song. For all its lack of compromise, it still comes off as an amalgam of other post-punk British bands, mainly Joy Division and The Fall. Plus, the song’s payoff line – “I’ll never ever be clean again” – seems borrowed from The Cure’s “”The Figurehead.” It may be a brutal track, but it still sounds like Jarvis hasn’t found his voice yet, and so it’s not quite essential Pulp.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I very deliberately chose to place entries on this song and “Bar Italia” next to each other. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this mentioned elsewhere – and it didn’t occur to me till about a year ago – but both songs essentially describe the same situation. They both occur at dawn, after a long, long night of carousing. “Bar Italia” takes a dark, sardonic approach. But on “Sunrise,” Jarvis decides to be both caustic and optimistic. Over gently unfolding guitars, he laments his wasted, boozy adulthood with some of his most trenchant, self-needling lines, culminating with a gem of a couplet: “All my achievements in days of yore/ Range from pathetic to piss-poor.” But now’s he vowing to change, not so much his night-life habits, but his feelings of remorse and guilt over staying up all night. He’s trying to embrace that sunrise, not rue it.

The band began playing “Sunrise” in concert a good year-and-a-half before We Love Life was finally released. Its extended instrumental coda – contrasting Mark Webber’s minimalist but anthemic guitar lines with Nick Banks’ boisterous drumming – made the song a fan favorite from early on, and Jarvis tried to rush out a single version, just as they did with “Common People,” which live audiences also embraced early on. However, due to a changing record industry, it didn’t happen as planned. The song eventually came out as a double a-side with “The Trees,” both of which were coolly received by consumers. Still, “Sunrise” remains a fan favorite, and one of the finest songs by the “mature” Pulp. Here’s a live version with some especially impressive dancing from Jarvis at the end.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bar Italia

Pulp’s most famous album closes with this gentle, almost country-tinged track that’s arguably as desolate as anything on Freaks or This Is Hardcore. Describing the aftermath of an endless night of drinking, dancing, partying, etc., “Bar Italia” features a narrator and his companion, the living dead groggily heading to the titular café for some much-needed coffee. In one light, the song is pretty matter-of-fact, as the duo deal with their impending hangovers with ironic melodrama and put-downs. But, especially coming after the whirlwind of experience and increasing cynicism on the previous 12 tracks, the exhaustion in Jarvis’ voice cuts deep. And the lyric that closes each chorus offhandedly captures the sadness and horror of the song: “You’re looking so confused/ Oh, what did you lose?” And Jarvis admits that they are fated to continuing having these to these kinds of nights; the implied reason being, what else is there to do? It’s at the song’s end, when (I think) he wearily reasons they may as well go to another bar, that get a sense of how he really feels, like one of the “broken people.” It’s a long, long way from brash confidence that opened the album.

Musically, it’s worth noting the instrumental interlude, where the band lurches into a drunken waltz. Here’s a memorable, slightly stripped down performance of the song from The Mercury Prize broadcast. (They won that year.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

You Are the One

Jarvis has described this discarded demo as a song that might’ve made This Is Hardcore more Different Class-like. “You Are the One” bears a thematic relation to “Something Changed,” but it’s a second-hand, less inspired version. It’s only a demo, so you can’t really blame the band for coming up with an unfinished arrangement. But it’s clear their hearts are not in this song, and everyone involved would rather be working on the darker, more challenging Hardcore material. Also, this song has no business being four-and-a-half minutes long.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Looking For Life

The b-side of “My Lighthouse” got tacked onto the ’94 CD reissue of It. So, for all intents and purposes, this is the final song on It, as the majority of Pulp fans didn’t hear the album (and other early releases) until its mid-‘90s re-emergence. And it’s for the better; the slow-building drama of “Looking For Life” makes for a better album-closer than the wispy “In Many Ways.” Jarvis’ lyric vows to move on the wreckage of another love affair, but it’s celestial organ and relatively driving outro that makes the song memorable. And just to remind you that this is early Pulp, Jarvis also lets loose some painfully tuneless vocal ad libs during the song’s finale.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Help The Aged

Pulp’s first new single after Different Class revealed a more world-weary band (and also a smaller one, what with longtime guitarist-violinist Russell Senior’s 1996 exit). Although, as this blog has tirelessly posited, Pulp’s music has always displayed an almost exhaustively neurotic perspective, “Help the Aged” was most certainly a calculated effort to bring it back to the forefront. No longer would the band embrace the hustling night life with something approaching pure satisfaction; but of course, nor would they suck all the joy out of their music.

“Help The Aged” still brims with glammy thrills and pop style. With its glossy keyboards and turbo-charged guitar riffs, they renewed their Bowie/Roxy Music allegiance. Jarvis proves him an especially worthy inheritor (and updater) of Bryan Ferry’s campy sense of style. He gives a vocal performance that seems ready-made for velvet jackets and tinted glasses. But at the same time, he completely rejects ironic distance and poseur effects. There are plenty of deadpan one-liners in the song, but this panic yelp in the chorus shows just how much he really means it, as he’s always meant it.

The video amusingly imagines a world in which hipsters ensnare ladies by dressing up at senior citizens. Also, the version of the song on The Peel Sessions is one for the ages. With the guitars set on “pulverize,” the band delivers one of their most thrillingly intense performances.

UPDATE: And how could I forget this rendition?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sheffield: Sex City

The original liner notes describe this “Babies” b-side as “the morning after ‘My Legendary Girlfriend.’” This song is certainly similar to that 1990 Pulp breakthrough. Both songs contain extended monologues that merge libido with existential longing in the unmistakable backdrop of Sheffield. In many ways, “Sheffield: Sex City” is the more blatant of the two songs, as the title indicates. Jarvis imbues his hometown with an unlikely but believable sexual tension, as the band vamps along atmospherically. Thanks to his effortless turns-of-phrase and the band’s genius at making scenically vivid music, this eight-and-a-half-minute track could only come from Pulp.

“Sheffield: Sex City” is also the first of two tracks to feature spoken-word contributions from Candida Doyle. I just learned from PulpWiki today that her monologue at the beginning comes from the book My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Alright, I’m going to cheat a little with this one. This song was demoed twice in 1984. First demo went on two separate compilation cassettes; second demo went on a third comp. Since the second demo is way more obtainable, that is the one we’ll consider.

“Maureen” recycled a chord progression Russell Senior brought over from a prior band, and you can hear Pulp latching onto an electric guitar riff for (possibly) the first time. Jarvis’ lyric indulges his talent for pitch-black humor, as he details a romantic obsession and what it’s like when she runs you over with her car. The Cocker-Senior alliance hasn’t yet mastered their songwriting skills (Five years later, the duo would’ve at least added a third chord.) But the undeniable energy, coupled with Jarvis’ storytelling prowess, has made “Maureen” one of the Pulp rarities most beloved by diehard fans.

Now about that second demo. “Maureen” was one of the 11 songs recorded by the band on the “Sudan Gerri” demo tape. The demo’s engineer, John Nicholls, later created a website with MP3s of the entire tape. Currently, you can download “Sudan Gerri” on this page on the PulpWiki site.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do You Remember the First Time?

Years later, they met together in a bar. It wasn’t something she had planned or wanted. But she’d agreed, hoping for the best. But his façade of casual conversation and normality was badly structured, and she could sense his seething bitterness. His casual jokes about their folly-filled youth, and his insistent claims of happy, freedom-filled adulthood all seem a little too ardently insisted-upon. He gets drunker and angrier. She insists she needs be getting home soon. About that, he mocks her.

Here’s the video, which kind of gives me vertigo. For viewing pleasure, I prefer this slightly melancholy rendition from near the end of Pulp.

Monday, June 9, 2008

You're Not Blind

“Another attempt to rewrite ‘Babies,’” says Jarvis, also pointing out the song’s “supremely nasty sentiment and quite nice guitar playing (god know who did it).” Regarding the latter, “You’re Not Blind” does contain some uncharacteristically Johnny Marr-like, interweaving guitars. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this demo was one of the few Pulp tracks produced by former Smiths producer Stephen Street.

As for that “supremely nasty sentiment,” the lyrics find Jarvis trying on the cuckolding lothario persona that he would later assume to some notoriety on “Pencil Skirt” and “I Spy.” Here, he brazenly addresses the man he is humiliating, basically telling the guy that, because he’s not a complete idiot, he must realize his partner is getting more satisfaction elsewhere. It’s simply that obvious.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Never-Ending Story

As far as I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with the children’s book or its ‘80s film adaptation. But, with its combination of loud, shrill, frantic verses and loud, shrill, groaning choruses, it’s pretty much my choice for Worst Pulp Song. Jarvis’ monotonous vocal does absolutely nothing to give any life to the lyrics (which aren’t very noteworthy in the first place). There’s something notably avant-garde about the song, but the band is basically pushing an envelope that they should’ve just left alone. On the plus side, the song is only three minutes long.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Trees

Although “The Trees” is among the more successful alchemies of We Love Life’s themes (nature, love gone wrong, acoustic guitars), as a single it failed to give the band the necessary commercial lift. Why this happened is best left to blogs with a better understanding of the UK charts. To these Yankee ears, the band turns in a nicely relaxed performance, ably supported by a gentle electronic undercurrent. Jarvis’ rueful lyric sketches in the scenario concisely – acts of romance gone wrong outdoors, while the botany passively observes. Was this Pulp’s version of melancholy, Coldplay-style balladry? If so, maybe that explains the single’s failure. Despite the gentle, poppy melody, Pulp cannot make their morose nature subside here.

Also, it probably didn’t help that the video isn’t much to write home about either.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Refuse to be Blind

According to Jarvis, this is “just a blatant Joy Division rip-off.” “Blatant” may actually be too strong a word. There’s not much of Martin Hannett’s eerie use of space and echo here. Instead, the production is fairly busy, with relentlessly squiggling synths all over the track. As Jarvis explains in his liner notes, since their ‘81 Peel Session wound up being their first experience in a real studio, they were determined to make the most of it. So, while most bands used their time at the BBC to bang out quick, mostly live renditions, the nascent Pulp instead eagerly used their time to finally indulge in all sorts of engineering and arrangement whims. Most notably, there’s the vocoder-like processing effect on Jarvis’ voice as he sings the title at the end (causing the band’s one-time driver to exclaim “I am a fucking Dalek!”; sadly, that did not make it onto the recording).

The song itself is a good bit of energetic, doomy post-punk, but lacks any real distinction. The lyrics imply a lot, but they’re most enigmatic and feel incomplete.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Glory Days

Famously, the Criterion Special Edition DVD of Terry Gilliam’s classic Brazil contains the studio’s edit of the film, which fortunately was not the one released to theaters. However, the edit is cited as a fascinating example of the ways film editing can change crucial elements of story and character. Similarly, “Glory Days” – the final resting place of the “Cocaine Socialism” recording – shows how one can totally alter the spirit of a piece of music through mixing.

All the brashest elements of “Cocaine Socialism” have been excised, most notably the horns. There’s less echo, and the band’s parts sound much more muted. What was once savage is now strangely elegiac.

Jarvis seems to now regret this rewrite, recently describing “Glory Days” as “about nothing really.” I strongly beg to differ. The song is arguably one of Pulp’s most resonant and poignant, a grand summation of life’s most mundane moments. Here; as much as any other song, Jarvis posits that the most insignificant parts of existence can be fraught with odd poetry and meaning. The song is filled with casual desperation and procrastination, only to realize that the waiting was, in fact, the real point of it all. The song culminates with a deeply impassioned plea – perhaps to himself – to commit these crucial trivialities for posterity.

These glory days can take their toll

So catch me now

Before I turn to gold.

Yeah, we'd love to hear your story

Just as long as it tells us where we are

That where we are is where we're meant to be.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cocaine Socialism

It would’ve been one hell of a comeback single -- a five-minute exegeses detailing the corroded state of British politics. It was Pulp’s most ambitious recording to date, with the band sparing no expense in order to realize their withering vision.

But instead, it was shelved, then used to form the basis of a wholly different song, then released in a tapered-down mix as a b-side. Nine years later, the “Proper Version” of “Cocaine Socialism” finally gained official release on the This Is Hardcore reissue.

In recent years, Jarvis has expressed ambivalence about this track’s ultimate fate. While he’s voiced an understandable concern about the song’s musical resemblance to “Common People,” other comments have been more ambiguous. “The basic truth was that I didn’t have the stomach for it anymore,” he says in his liner notes.

It’s a shame, because the fact of the matter is: “Cocaine Socialism” is one of the band’s most significant and accomplished tracks. Jarvis describes the sort of pitch-lines he and other rock celebrities of the time were fielding from Tony Blair minions with some of his most savage bon mots. “You must be a socialist/ ‘Cause you’re always off out on the piss.” The band accompanies him with arena-rock that aims to draw real blood. On the “Proper Version,” garish-sounding horns and backing vocalists are kept high in the mix. These accoutrements manage to make doubly clear the song’s angry vision.

Although it was written in response to UK-specific, now-dated brands like Britpop and New Labour, it’s still relevant in the way it pinpoints the moment when a lifestyle or set of beliefs becomes just another commodity. Idealism is a frail thing, this song says, and in politics it’s almost inevitably usurped for nefarious ends. (“You can be just what you want to be/ Just as long as you don’t try to compete with me.”) Anyone following the current U.S. presidential race with any vested interest would be wise to consider this song’s cautionary tale.

The next post will discuss the song that “Cocaine Socialism” turned into.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

P.T.A. (Parent Teacher Association)

Depicting a teacher (or headmaster) lusting after a student, “P.T.A.” is quite possibly Pulp’s most socially irresponsible song. But Jarvis’ lyric also lingers on the protagonist’s inexperience and feelings of missed opportunities. Plus, the song features a spoken-word interlude, with Jarvis as the teacher and Candida as the student. But “P.T.A.” ultimately suffers for the same reasons as another Different Class b-side, “Ansaphone.” The pop melody is bright, the production is big, but there’s something hollow at the core. The song needs the artiness that Pulp usually brings to the table.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In Many Ways

If nothing else, It is a triumphant testament to the endless possibilities of reverb. On “In Many Ways,” the opening riff sounds like gossamer, and the folky melody could be something you’d hear at a guitar mass. (Fortunately, you can’t say that about any other song in Pulp’s discography.) For balance, the lyrics are as scathing as It gets. “Hey, you’re treading on my life,” Jarvis coos at the beginning. He goes on to sketch out a relationship’s eventual, painful dissolution. “Pleasure now will justify our love/ See, I even called it ‘love.’”

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Morning

It’s songs like this – especially this song, as a matter of fact – that make me wonder how Different Class ever got designated as Pulp’s crowd-pleasing album. The jittery, nervous ska rhythm (I’m fairly certain it’s the only time the band tackled that genre) is a perfect match for Jarvis’ lyric. It’s one of his most sardonic, desperate works, a savage and concise catalog of newfound adult freedoms becoming mind-numbing, soul-killing routine. It’s an anthem for anyone fresh out of college, with a go-nowhere job to support a pointlessly busy, alcohol-soaked social life. The fatalism is crushing, but totally dead-on. “Is this the light of a new day dawning?/ A future bright that you can walk in?/ No, it’s just another Monday morning.” Explain to me again how songs from the subsequent album like this were considered a departure.

This TV performance contains some alternate lyrics. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Acrylic Afternoons

This song, along with “My Legendary Girlfriend” and “Babies” probably did most of the groundwork for establishing Jarvis as the unlikely sex symbol (a status he’s still trying to live down). But this tale of an amorous couple set against a tableau of suburban normalcy also alludes to something less physical. Like many similar Pulp songs, there exists the aching need for escape, as two lovers try to find a way out from the doldrums. Jarvis just wants to stay with her, “lying under the table together with you now.” It’s the tension between this desire and the one behind the song’s innuendos that gives the song an unmistakable edge, making it of a piece with the band’s body of work.

“Acrylic Afternoons” also serves as the name of one of the finest Pulp fansites around.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Body May Die

A true lost classic, “My Body May Die” points to a tantalizing, fascinating direction the band never fully explored. Jarvis hands the bulk of vocal duties over to long-running chorale group The Swingle Singers – the song is in fact credited to “Pulp vs. The Swingle Singers.” Underneath a bed of eerie harps and synths, the group intones a weave of verses, ruminating on love and loss. Jarvis emerges mid-way to intone “You thought I would leave you/ I could never leave you/ Wherever you go I will be by your side,” over and over. It never sounds like a threat, but it certainly is a most uneasy kind of reassurance. The performance is one of the band’s most powerfully subtle – take note of Nick Banks’ delicate drum work, miles away from the hard, arena-honed rhythms latter-day Pulp specialized in. It’s one of the band’s most challenging works, lyrically mysterious and musically unexpected. One hopes that Jarvis (if not Pulp as a whole) someday decides to pick up where it left off.

The song was written for the 2000 British television series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (a remake of the late-‘60s show of the same name). Songs like this indicate how rewarding a Deluxe Edition of We Love Life could be.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Your Sister's Clothes

"Your Sister’s Clothes” features the sisters from “Babies” four years on. Now the younger sibling finally gets her revenge for earlier years.
--From the liner notes to The Sisters EP

Without that synopsis, you might have trouble connecting “Your Sister’s Clothes” to Pulp’s breakthrough song, even though “Babies” precedes it on The Sisters EP. Nevertheless, the rather threadbare, enigmatic plot (a string of innuendos, really) of “Your Sister’s Clothes” cannot detract from the song’s power, nor the overall brilliance of The Sisters EP. Here, the band pumps up a kitchen-sink epic to almost ridiculous heights, handily avoiding queasy melodrama. Candida Doyle and Russell Senior are in especially fine form here, concocting an ingenious arrangement of keyboards and vari-speed violin. Their instruments seem to move in symbiosis, working together to cover all the right frequencies and plot points.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

They Suffocate at Night

On the final track of Freaks – and the last single by that lineup of the band – the minor-key indie fumblings suddenly gain the low-rent grandeur the band must’ve been striving for that whole time. It’s hard to say what exactly is different, but there’s a melancholy that arises here – different from mere dreariness – that’s quite affecting. The arrangement is quite perfect, mixing organ, plucked violin and a steady, delicate rhythm. Jarvis’ vocals still lack confidence and certitude, but even that’s not really a drawback. The lyrics detail love gone horribly wrong once again, but every line is well-chosen, filling in the right details while still leaving room for ambiguity.
During the filming of a video for this track, apparently the band had some sort of falling out and “broke up,” although soon enough, Jarvis and Russell Senior would put together a new Pulp, eventually bringing Candida Doyle back into the fold as well. Rather miraculously, the video is available on YouTube.

Monday, April 28, 2008


… and we’re back. The opening track on the final Pulp album, “Weeds” attempts to cover a lot of ground, not always successfully. The opening acoustic guitar riff hints at a more pastoral direction from the band, but within a few seconds, we’re back in vaguely Different Class-like anthemic territory. At any rate, both musical decisions seem chosen to move the band as far away from This Is Hardcore as possible.

The song finds Jarvis veering back into “Mis-Shapes” territory, a little strange given his vocal disdain for that song. Here, he wants to write about different kinds of misfits as beleaguered but undaunted. He can’t be faulted for lack of ambition – attempting to tie confused young urbanites and council estate residents into his central botanical metaphor. But something’s missing; the song is rousing and melodic, but it doesn’t quite gel with Jarvis’ concepts. Frankly, “Mis-Shapes” did it better.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Day After the Revolution

At the very end of This Is Hardcore, the band makes an abrupt turn from matters of debauchery and depression to socio-political concerns. It’s so sudden, this change of tact, that a casual listener could easily neglect it. But it’s there, and the soured, world-weary but wiser tone that closes the album only gives it more depth. Like many left-leaning Brit musicians of the time, Jarvis quickly lost hope in Tony Blair’s “New Labour” brand; “The Day After the Revolution” takes solace in the belief that the most significant paradigm shifts will occur in secret, unbeknownst to the masses. Similarly, you can hear the track – despite its hard-charging, echoing guitars and drums – signify the band’s retreat back to the fringes, away from celebrity and all its bummer after-effects. It’s the anti-“Mis-Shapes” in a way.

Now all the breakdowns and nightmares look small
Now we decided not to die after all
Because the meek shall inherit absolutely nothing at all
If you stopped being so feeble, you could have so much more

“Yeah we made it,” Jarvis exclaims at the end, and the relief is palpable, especially given the nightmare scenarios of the previous songs. He then launches into a monologue (“Sheffield is over/ The Fear is over/ Guilt is over…”) that echoes John Lennon’s “I don’t believe in…” litany in “God.” On the UK version of TIH, the song then concludes with nearly ten minutes of a single synth note, punctuated by a single “bye-bye” from Jarvis near the end. It may have been a stunt instituted by La Monte Young fan Mark Webber. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have the U.S. version, the song fades out before all that. Instead we get a top-notch bonus track, “Like a Friend” – although for the purposes of this blog, we won’t be treating that as a track from this album.

(Note: I’m moving this month, so my time and/or internet will be limited. So Music From a Bachelor’s Den will be on a lighter publishing schedule for April. I fully expect things to go back to normal once May rolls around.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Born to Cry

This song can be found on the soundtrack to the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts rom-com Notting Hill; but only on the UK version. And, oh yes, the song is not heard at any point during the film Notting Hill. What else do you need to know? Pulp’s then-touring guitarist Richard Hawley receives a co-writing credit on this song with the band, and you can hear glimpses of his subsequent, well-regarded career as an Orbison-esque balladeer. Listening to “Born to Cry,” you can also tell the band was between the heavily produced This Is Hardcore and the slightly more organic We Love Life. It’s certainly not the most distinctive, idiosyncratic song Pulp ever wrote, but you can feel Jarvis work through the power-ballad clichés, just so he can deliver his ode to the chronically morose: “Darling, you and I/ We were born to cry.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

She's Dead

Another lush yet grim ballad, one that catches the band in something of a transitional period. The execution is more expert than something like “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes),” yet we’re not quite in the polished, near-bombastic territory of, say, “Sylvia.” The band’s not at the point yet where they can afford a real string section, but the synthesized backing just makes the song more poignant, symbolic of something that’s nearly obtainable, but just out of reach. Herein, Jarvis mourns over a broken relationship so thoroughly that it doesn’t matter to him whether she is in fact deceased or just out of his life. It’s all the same to him at this point.

Monday, March 24, 2008


At some point, Jarvis grew to regret writing this rallying cry of a hit single. The curdled after-effects of Britpop-era celebrity rendered this song hopelessly naïve in his mind. He so disliked this song that he pointedly left it off the band’s 2002 Hits compilation, causing a minor kerfuffle amongst some die-hard fans. Of course, I think he doth protest too much. Not only is “Mis-Shapes” a genre-defining anthem and perfect album opener, but it’s also filled with some real melancholy. I’ve always heard a desperate catch in Jarvis’ voice on lines like “Oh, we weren’t supposed to be” and “Brothers, sisters, can’t you see?” When he delivers the chorus’ pay-off line – “We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of/ That’s our minds” – for the last time in the song, he’s followed by a dying synthesizer squall, as it to signify that there’s much, much more to this story. And indeed, the rest of Different Class goes on to show just how uneasy young adulthood can get for even the most defiant of nonconformists.

The story doesn’t end there. At some point in the 21st Century, a popular New York DJ night called “Mis-Shapes” began. I have no concrete evidence of my own, but in some circles the night has became fairly synonymous with hipster douchebaggery. For good or ill, the photograph book commemorating this night features some text from Jarvis, who DJed there along with Steve Mackey early on. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that victory can be pulled from even the most dire of events, and maybe all this will have softened Jarvis’ stance towards the song “Mis-Shapes” by the time Pulp launch a reunion of some sort.

Watch the video for the song here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Inside Susan

The second part of the Inside Susan song series – part one was covered here. The title song, if you will, is another peppy, synth-driven pop song, this time serving as backing for one of Jarvis’ spoken monologues. He writes about teenage parties and make-out sessions with sense of sadness. By now, we’re getting a sense of Susan as someone with a promise that is never adequately realized. But overall this isn’t one of his most compelling stories, with a few metaphors that uncharacteristically go clunk.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tomorrow Never Lies

I’ve spent my share of time trying to distill the specifics code that make a perfect Bond theme. It’s not an exact science, I’ve figured that much out. You need to pay respect to the classic Bond motifs created by John Barry; but any fool knows that. It’s the other elements that are slightly less tangible. For example, you can be reverent towards Bond music, while being tongue-in-cheek towards the whole Bond persona. Additionally, your song needs to sound great coming after the chase sequence it is inevitably following – to that end, you should either try to amp up the excitement further, or provide a dramatic change of pace with a luxuriously unfolding ballad.

Of course, I’m not exactly unbiased, but Pulp proved their mastery of the above, plus a whole lot more, with their submission for the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. They go the ballad route, but it’s the kind of swelling, vaguely operatic affair that sounds perfect coming after a ski chase-turned-seduction-scene, or however the hell this one opened. Listening to the song, you practically see the title credits projected on a woman’s torso. Jarvis’ lyrics slyly celebrate Bond as a defiant man who triumphs against the insurmountable and deadly odds through a mix of undeniable skill and devil-may care outlook. In a less specific light, though, he could just as easily be singing out about another misfit who’s ready to think of oneself in terms of grandeur, which makes this, thematically, a classic Pulp song.

It also came in handy, since the song was rejected by the Bond people. According to Wikipedia, a dozen artists were invited to audition a Bond theme. In addition to Pulp, some fairly off-beat artists participated, including St. Etienne and Marc Almond. In the end, the producers chose the safest, most internationally famous artist, Sheryl Crow. Undaunted, Pulp made a simple tweak to the title and used it as a b-side. On the deluxe edition of This Is Hardcore, you can find the band’s demo with the original title.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Someone Like the Moon

Candida’s slow, simple organ repetitions sound like Phillip Glass gone glam. Appropriately for a song about night, the music is twinkling yet mysterious, evocative of a half-light that renders things only partially visible. The lyrics find Jarvis in kitchen-sink mode – if nothing else, His ‘n’ Hers is the band’s most suburban album. Another sympathetic portrait of a lost, broken-hearted woman, “Someone Like the Moon” takes an opposite tack from a song like “Lipgloss.” Both songs are strangely uplifting; but while “Lipgloss” merges dead-on observations with soaring, upbeat pop, the more meandering melody of “Someone Like the Moon” pays respect to the mysterious, intangible aspects of life’s drudgery.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Thanks to the breezy melody, cheesy arrangement, and nasty but rather half-hearted lyrics, you can’t help but think Pulp just needed to get this song out of their system during the Different Class writing sessions. After all, they’d committed themselves to making pop songs as succinct and unpretentious as possible. “Paula” – which of course was abandoned after the demo phase – sounds like they were still on their way towards mastering the genre. Who knows, maybe this song got Jarvis thinking about a girl he once knew named Deborah…

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Master of the Universe

While possessing an energy that’s more focused than most Freaks tracks, “Master of the Universe” still leans heavily on goth overtones. Still, glimmers of the Cocker wit show up here (“I am the Master of the Universe/ And I’ve got so big it hurts”). In later interviews, Jarvis would point out the incongruousness of the song. “I liked writing ‘Master of the Universe’ while being on the dole and not being the master of anything at all,” he told MOJO Magazine in 2003. “It was the winter I’d fallen out of the window – I was stuck in a wheelchair and my mother’s watching Lovejoy. So it had a certain grim humour.” That explains the S&M imagery of the song, as master morphs into debased servant. The song was released as a single in a “sanitized” version with toned-down lyrics. (Most notably, the word “masturbates” became “vegetates.”) That is the version that serves as the sorta-title track to the compilation of mid-‘80s Pulp singles and b-sides.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Theme from Peter Gunn

“We’re going to attempt to play a cover version, which we’re not very good at usually.” With those inspiring words, Jarvis opens the band’s set for a radio concert commemorating John Peel’s 40th year as a broadcaster. He goes on to introduce the song as a favorite of Peel’s, but instead of Pulp’s version of “Teenage Kicks,” we get this skewed yet rocking interpretation of the classic TV theme. The rhythm section, led by Richard Hawley’s expert rendering of the opening rockabilly riff, keeps things tight and rocking, allowing (presumably) Jarvis and Candida to deconstruct the song with noisy, trashy synths. I think you can also hear Mark Webber pluck out some electric piano parts early in the rendition before unleashing inspired splurges of abstract guitar riffs.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This House is Condemned

The final Pulp song to feature a lead vocal from Russell Senior, “This House is Condemned” also represents the band’s most committed attempt at acid house. These two facts seem unrelated, as Russell’s disengaged, stentorian spoken-word track exists on a wholly different planet from the busily computerized music. Imagine New Order if Ian Curtis had lived. They seem to be taking the word “House” rather literally. The storyline is another saga of low-income housing (see also “Mile End” and “Deep Fried in Kelvin”). Rather than try to compete with Jarvis with cuttingly witty observations, Russell gets his point across through repetition. I wouldn’t call this song a failure, but it does definitely end Separations on a note of “whaaa?” Even though the prior three tracks also featured plenty of digitally triggered backing tracks, the song still sticks out of what was otherwise their most fully realized, cohesive album to date.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Live On

“Live On” was performed on radio once and never “properly” recorded, sending it around the bootleg circuit. It’s another His ‘n’ Hers-era gem, proving again that the band had more great songs than it knew what to do with by this time. The band has mastered the effortless disco groove, insistent, cheesy keyboards and charmingly amateurish wah-wah guitar riffs. All of these provide a reliable support system for Jarvis to muse and work himself into a bother about, in this case, the lingering and torturing memories of long-gone lover. The band’s performance only gets tighter and tenser as Jarvis increasingly seems to lose his shit. These kinds of arrangements would soon prove to be very rewarding for Pulp.

Monday, February 25, 2008


After the opening panic attack of “The Fear,” this song comes as palpable relief and proof that This Is Hardcore isn’t just about cold sweats, panic and loathing, but the sobering realization that, like it or not, life trundles along anyway. The loungy balladry of the music helps relax Jarvis, who goes to great, witty lengths to de-mystify himself. Not only performing the most mundane of household tasks, he’s also willing to go through whatever prosaic mating ritual you’d require – he knows he’s not God’s gift to women. Even when he risks some maudlin lyrical passages near the end – musing about heaven and earth, and making the best out of the latter – the sweetly sweeping music, with a heartrending string section rising, helps the song stay on the genuine and touching side.

Here’s a TV performance of the song.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down)

The opening riff brings to mind “Show Me” by The Pretenders. But in every other way “Bob Lind” is a song that could only come from Pulp. The buoyant melody and arrangement are supported by a lyric that describe people at their seemingly lowest point – desperate and hopeless. But Jarvis also posits that these moments are when people can “fall in love again.” He drives the point home in the final verse, one of his most nakedly emotional: “When you walked into the room/ I could not breathe, I could not speak.” The lines that follow find Jarvis offering himself wholly and honestly. It’s genuinely touching and not at all sappy, not with lines like “Oh no, I am a fuck-up/ Just the same as you.” The song celebrates fuck-ups, because when you reach that state, you’re more likely to open yourself up.
Bob Lind was a soft-pop singer in the ‘60s. Jarvis explains his connection to the song at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


For a time, I found this bump-and-grind opus to be the odd song out on Different Class (see also “Seductive Barry” on This is Hardcore). Then I focused on the key line of the verses: “It’s so cold.” The seduction scene in this song isn’t unattractive and disillusioning, but it’s focused on the unfamiliarity of it all, the sense of heading into uncharted territory, not just physically but emotionally as well. In that light, this is yet another song from Different Class’ second half that perfectly captures the uneasiness of the journey towards maturity, a trip always fraught with potential strife. (It could be argued, then, that in the three songs that follow, closing the album, the disenchantment truly sets in.)

Musically, “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” stands as the album’s most overt lunge towards electronic experimentation, a direction in which the band frequently made overtures without ever really fully committed. Ultimately, they were always a song-and-lyric-driven act. I particular like this live version from the We Love Life tour.

Monday, February 18, 2008

97 Lovers

Jarvis’s liner-note description (from the Dogs Are Everywhere EP) sums it up best: Why 97? It could just have easily been 970 or 9,700. Just take a short walk around town and you soon lose count of the deformities. By the way, what's that growing on your back? In other words, this is another of the band’s goth workouts, with creaking violin and relentless kettle drums. The rudimentary Farfisa chords that open the song would later be reused for a more upbeat end on “O.U. (Gone, Gone).” As Jarvis’ note implies, the purpose of his rant is obscure if not completely irrelevant. It’s more about the overall feel of doom, like a permanent fog settling over Sheffield. Still, the song gets points for the effortlessly creepy image of a picture of Roger Moore that hangs over the bed of a couple living a textbook example of domestic discontent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Whiskey in the Jar

Frequently during the ‘90s, Pulp recorded Black Sessions for the France Inter radio station. Back then, bands were asked to do cover songs for these sessions, to give listeners something special, I suppose. Pulp often rose to the occasion with some truly surprising choices, such as the Thin Lizzy version of the traditional Irish ballad “Whiskey in the Jar.” It’s not a perfect fit, but Jarvis’ acoustic guitar and Russell’s violin helped give the band an entry point to the song’s folky lilt. And the song’s themes of desire, deception and murder certainly fit with many of Jarvis’ lyrical preoccupations.

This radio performance subsequently came out on the Childline benefit compilation and as the b-side to the French “Common People” single. However, the best cover song Pulp ever recorded for a Black Session was their stunningly apt reading of Frankie Valli’s “The Night,” which unfortunately has yet to be officially released.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I Want You

The guitars intertwine agreeably and the backing vocals campily intone “ba-ba-ba-ba.” Here’s another Freaks track that feints towards pop. Nevertheless, Jarvis promises a scenario of mutual dissatisfaction, to put it mildly. Romantic obsession curdles into boredom by the second verse already. And, once the relationship has reached its inevitable conclusion (“You’ve got to stamp upon its head,” Jarvis instructs), endless regret will inevitably follow, which soon morphs back into romantic obsession. And we can where this is headed.

Not that the band was faring well in the music scene at this point anyway, but it probably didn’t help that Freaks came out the same year as Elvis Costello’s “I Want You,” an even more fascinating, slow-motion crawl through desire unhinged. Pulp’s song sounds positively breezy in comparison. Although it’s worth nothing that the demo of Pulp’s “I Want You” first came out on a compilation cassette in 1984, but I think it’s safe it reached a limited audience this way. “I Want You” is also one of the few Freaks-era songs that the band performed occasionally in the '90s and beyond.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


It’s been quite a while since I’ve tackled any of Pulp’s truly definitive songs, so I figured I’d better get a move on.

“Babies” is such a potent pop song, it gave the band two lifts into orbit -- first as a successful indie single in ’92; then given a slightly different, brighter mix for the ’94 single which became their first UK top 20 hit. And make no mistake, even from my American perspective “Babies” sounds like a landmark hit because it marked their most perfect pop thus far. Simply put, every single part of the song is a genius pop hook, from the brilliantly rudimentary opening guitar hook (written by drummer Nick Banks) onward.

But you can’t discount that lyric, which perfectly, wittily captures the collision of lust, discovery and confusion of adolescence. And there are sisters. Plus, with Jarvis spending much of the song hiding in a wardrobe, you can think of it as Pulp’s own “Trapped in the Closet,” as a friend of mine once remarked. (“Babies” has but one sequel, which we’ll get to eventually.)

Appropriately, there two separate videos for “Babies,” a way-low-budget one and a glossier, mainstream-ready one. Plus, this strange “spoken word” version. Keep looking around YouTube and you’ll find plenty of live and TV performances as well.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Turkey Mambo Momma

Dismiss this as a novelty tune, thanks to the title, at your own peril. This entry from the band’s fabled first Peel Session in ’81 knowingly borrows a xylophone motif from Violent Femmes’ “Gone Baby Gone,” but that’s not all. Like that famed first album from Gordon Gano et al, ‘Turkey Mambo Momma” is thick with heady sexual paranoia. Detailing some sort of encounter in Seychelles (an island in Africa and popular tourist spot), the song at times verges on a delirious parody of harlequin romance novels. Jarvis ends the tale with a typically morbid flourish. “Impaled on the rocks as she tears me in two/ At last I’ve found the answer, and the answer is you.” In light of a song like this, the naïvely romantic tone Jarvis pitched on It in 1983 sounds more and more like a mere aberration.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a Dirty World

Supposedly, this is the only bona fide Pulp outtake – a finished song from recording sessions (not a demo) that did not make it onto an album, b-side, soundtrack or compilation. Recently, Jarvis has surmised that the song should have made its way onto This Is Hardcore, and it’s hard to disagree.
The dense, clattering arrangement recalls Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” while the lyrics allude to Van Halen’s “Jump” (“With your back up against the cigarette machine/Well, it’s bad for your health, if you know what I mean”). It’s the perfect backdrop for Jarvis’ droll descriptions of lustful hysteria. To sum, Jarvis meets a dancer whose act then causes the building they’re in to literally burn to ground. And that's when he realizes he’s finally found someone quite special.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Memories of a failed relationship dart in and out of the songs on Pulp’s last album. The subject receives its most concentrated and most pained airing in “Roadkill.” The imagery here is devastatingly personal, with Jarvis lingering on the most mundane of memories: “The pale blue nightdress,” “A subway token from your ma,” “The way you drove your car.” These incredibly trivial things suddenly bear unbearable weight, and it is Jarvis’ peculiar genius that he takes this pretty shopworn theme and makes it so palpable, so full of raw feeling. And, oh yeah, if the song wasn’t depressing enough, he throws in an image of a dead deer in the road, just so you’re sure what single life feels like to him. The band accompanies him with the album’s sparsest arrangement, and the skeletal guitar lines and ambient backgrounds are deeply apt.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Street Lites

Another song so effortless, delicate and captivating, it’s still pretty amazing that the band regarded stuff like this as mere b-side material. The music is fragile yet precise – a simple, repetitive organ line, violin plucks and brushed drums. Jarvis’ lyric makes clear the illicitness nature of this love affair, but there is an unmistakable undertone of romance. “Street Lites,” the focus is ultimately on the two lovers stealthily finding shelter from a prosaic and uncaring world. “I want to catch you unawares,” Jarvis says at one point, and this song can have a similar effect of the listener, subtly enveloping you in its unmistakable, palpable atmosphere.

Monday, January 21, 2008

TV Movie

Opening with a mix of sci-fi synth noise and Jarvis’ campfire acoustic guitar, “TV Movie” emerges as the least adorned song on This Is Hardcore. The band still can’t quite resist adding plenty of production candy gloss along the way, although Nick Banks’ drums have a naturalistic sound lacking on the rest of the album. The opening verse finds Jarvis laboring a tad too hard to reach his punch line in comparing his life to made-for-the-small-screen dross. But it’s worth it for the song’s climax, where the string section swells, and his voice hits that ache in his upper register, as he makes every effort to finally do away with any semblance of cleverness, to state his loneliness as simply and directly as possible.

Friday, January 18, 2008


The song opens with another of Russell’s Euro-folk violin flourishes. Soon he’s surrounded by a mass of sampled, treated orchestral sounds. Jarvis sings dramatically of a woman divided from her lover. Two minutes in, we suddenly segue to a hilariously cheap synth rhythm, and the song suddenly morphs into a brutally efficient tango. Now Jarvis describes the man in the severed relationship, trying to keep up a jaunty façade to little avail. He’s just as haunted by her memory. He’s another Jarvis character who’s making out that he’s okay when he’s not. He’s also another figure in the Pulp canon that’s attempting to escape his past by heading to a new town. Both the man and woman are haunted by the memories of each other, as their surroundings – especially the hovering moon and night – mock them. “Separations” brilliantly captures the Pulp’s ability to shift scenery using words and music.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Joking Aside

The fetching melody and cello counterpoint help distract you from realizing there’s something quite mysterious about this song. The words “Joking Aside” do not appear at all in the song; it's more Jarvis’ attempt to, joking aside, talk about a problem sincerely. Nevertheless, he manages to get through the four-plus minutes of the song without ever concretely addressing what exactly the problem is. Instead, he indulges in plenty of neurotic musings, constantly mulling one angle over another. One line in the chorus – “I’d like to turn you over/ to see what’s on your other side” – points to a romantic situation (or something more provocative). But his self-exhortations regarding “my present situation” and “these pursuits I might try” suggest the song could equally be about his ambivalence regarding a career in music and even the slowly creeping feeling that he may one day need to get out of Sheffield.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ladies' Man

One of the band’s most seductive creations gets put through the Hardcore treatment. The beautiful mix of synths, electric piano and electronic drums and gracefully unfolding melody are supported by Jarvis singing the entire lyric through a vocoder. Such a device renders the lyric – filled with seemingly passionate come-ons – eerie and robotic. It may be an obvious trick, but damn does it work. It renders literal Jarvis’ fears about the pointlessness and banality of uttering such phrases again and again. “Ladies’ Man” is of a piece with other Pulp songs of the period that view the mating game with an increasingly caustic eye. It is also the second Pulp song (after “We Can Dance Again”) to quote a lyric from Blondie's "Atomic."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Something Changed

This is probably the only Pulp song that would be even remotely appropriate at a wedding reception. “Something Changed” occurs in the middle of Different Class, the last of three songs that look at romance from varying angles. While the song takes the most unambiguously optimistic view of love that Jarvis ever ventured since the release of It, the song still shows plenty of jaggedly neurotic edges. He cannot help but wonder about all the small changes that could’ve occurred to prevent him from meeting the woman he’s singing to. (He could’ve stayed in for the night, she could’ve visited someone else.) At the same time, he wonders if they were fated to be together, by some benevolent higher power arranging romantic connections via timetable. It’s up to the woman to dissuade him from these worrying thoughts.

Although Jarvis suggested that this acoustic-driven ballad did in fact date back to the It era, Mark Sturdy was unable to find any concrete evidence in his Pulp bio Truth and Beauty. The video can be seen here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Anorexic Beauty

One of the few Pulp originals to contain no lyrical input from Jarvis, “Anorexic Beauty” features wordsmithery courtesy of one David Kurley, another Sheffield-area musician. Sung by Jarvis and Russell in unison, the song just might be the band’s most politically incorrect (along with “P.T.A.”). Still, the imagery is impressively disturbing, I suppose, and the band’s trashy garage groove is charmingly amateurish and catchy all the same. The song was dedicated to Lena Zavaroni.