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

Roadkill

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

Separations

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 fa├žade 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.