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

Maureen

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 fa├žade 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.