Thursday, February 19, 2009


“It’s the most bitter song we’ve ever done,” Jarvis told Melody Maker at the time of this song’s release, February 1993. Sixteen years later, and it’s safe to say that it's still true. “Razzmatazz” contains some of his most savage bon mots, starting with the killer first line. The trouble with your brother, he’s always sleeping – with your mother. From there, the song hardly ever relents, as Jarvis reflects on an ex-girlfriend who scorned him for lacking a certain lively sense of flash, and her subsequent fall into depression and frustration. What saves it from being too bitter is the music, another confident 1993 slice of swirling, booming melody from the band. And there’s enough desperation in Jarvis’ voice to convey empathy, even at the song’s nastiest peaks. “However harsh I am about the people in ‘Razzmatazz,” he continued in that interview, “I’m not writing from above their level. I’ve got a lot of experience of being as sad as them, if not more so.”

Watch the video here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Death Goes to the Disco

As mentioned before, this remix of “Death Comes to Town” has weirdly always been easier to find than the source track. This is due to its placement on Countdown: 1992-1983, for a long time the pre-fame Pulp compilation that was the easiest to find, and the most comprehensive. ("Death Goes to the Disco" was also the b-side to the song "Countdown.") The track isn’t dramatically different from “Death Comes to Town.” There are a fewer verses, a drum breakdown and lots more echo on Jarvis’ vocal. However, these minor changes help make this version just a little bit more evocative.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This Is Hardcore

Pulp is my favorite band. That said, I don’t know if I feel they’re underrated, that they ought to be considered one of the biggest, most important and serious groups in the world. Truth be told, I don’t really believe that any rock or pop artist is really underrated. Pretty much everyone gets the audience they deserve.

However, I will make the case that, in their own small way, Pulp did their part to expand the capabilities, ideas and language of popular songs. And I think there are three songs that most vividly illustrate this: “My Legendary Girlfriend,” “Common People” and “This Is Hardcore.”

When “This Is Hardcore” came out as a single, a few weeks before the release of the album of the same name, the press, perhaps understandably, honed in on the explicit lyrics, which seemed to describe the making of and participation in pornography with a creeping world-weariness. What makes these lyrics special is how they function as a near-perfect metaphor for Jarvis’ pursuit and ultimate capture of fame. For example, “This is me on top of you/ And I can’t believe that it took me this long,” could easily describe Pulp’s rise to the top of the British charts. And “This Is Hardcore” ultimately describes the corroding and dehumanizing after-effects of fame. Like porn, the song is saying, celebrity is something that seems alluring and forbidden, especially when you’re young; but up close it can turn out to be depressingly hollow.

The music works perfectly with the words. Pulp was never a band of virtuosos, yet their command over arrangement, their ability to use their musicianship to push the song into new territory, is superlative on a song like this. The song’s most florid elements – the glossy grand piano and expansive orchestra – are undercut with some fantastic musical sleaze: the seasick sample (from the music to a ‘60s German sci-fi TV show) and bump-and-grind rhythms. Mark Webber’s guitar enters midway through the song, sounding like Ziggy Stardust Goes Straight to Hell.

Even the video is brilliant, matched in Pulp’s filmed oeuvre only by “Bad Cover Version.” Directed by Doug Nichol, the clip cleverly avoids the porn angle; instead it’s a staggeringly accurate pastiche of a number of classic film styles, most notably Douglas Sirk, Busby Berkeley and film noir. It makes brilliant use of Jarvis and the other members of Pulp to boot. Just watch it already.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Professional

Most bands wouldn’t devote such conceptual and musical energy towards a mere b-side. In many ways, “The Professional” handily summarizes the overriding themes of This Is Hardcore. Over a loungy sample, Jarvis practically raps an unsparing litany of self-loathing, painting himself as an aging has-been hack. Like the rest of This Is Hardcore, because Jarvis is so wittily relentless (or relentlessly witty), the song somehow avoids nauseating self-pity. It becomes a weird kind of catharsis. Also, the song is constantly inventive. There’s the moment when the music completely drops out, leaving him sounding completely naked and vulnerable. And there’s a whopper of a final verse, where the song stops being a general treatise on Jarvis’ lameness. Suddenly, the song becomes specific yet ambiguous. Jarvis describes himself abandoning lovers before they awake, only to pick up new ones and begin the deceptions anew. Is “The Professional” a character piece now? Was it always? The song constantly invites new interpretations, making it one of the band’s best b-sides, one that could’ve easily fit onto Hardcore.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Weeds II (the origin of the species)

Like “Babies” and “Your Sister’s Clothes,” or the Inside Susan trilogy, “Weeds” and this song work hand-in-hand. Here, the connection is especially blatant, since the songs serve as the first two tracks on We Love Life. Unlike the anthemic “Weeds,” this track is spookily electronic, laced with the eerie vocals of The Swingle Singers. But “Weeds II” is even less successful. With his spoken-word monologue, Jarvis threads his central metaphor (weeds = social outcasts) cleanly and fairly cleverly. But none of the lines really sting, and there’s no real pay-off line either. It’s arguably his most unmemorable monologue song, with none of the atmosphere of, say, “Sheffield: Sex City.”

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Le Roi Des Fourmis

Pulp recorded this for a tribute to French singer Michel Polnareff in 1993, but it wasn’t released until 1999, by which point the band’s sound had evolved considerably (not to mention the completed transition of guitar players, from Russell Senior to Mark Webber). So upon release, this song must’ve seemed like a strange capsule to a time when the band was eagerly but innocently indulging their most poptastic impulses, filling the arrangement with glam keyboards, boisterous drums and hilarious guitar riffs.

On top of all this, Jarvis delivers a ridiculously camp vocal performance; the song is in French, he doesn’t pretend to understand it and he has a ball with it all the same. There is one spoken English line: “At ten thirty-five precisely I realized I had nowhere left to fall and from that moment it began to get better. Being small and innocent could be an advantage sometimes,” which sure sounds like it came from Jarvis’ pen. Reportedly, he planned to sing the entire song in English, but the translated lyrics made no sense at all. The song’s title, by the way, translates as “The King of the Ants.”