Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Here now is almost certainly the worst, most universally despised (by both band and fans) Pulp song. It’s to the band’s credit that it’s a mere b-side from the ‘80s, although it is still a mystery how it got released in the first place.

“Silence” is the only recording from the band’s oft-bootlegged Sudan Gerri demo tape to receive official release, on the “Master of the Universe” single. And it never was released again, on any Pulp reissues or compilations. Jarvis has admitted in interviews that he has forbidden it to be re-released; he’s as aware as anyone how terrible it is.

What’s so bad about this song? It’s a slow organ drone in which Jarvis moans tunelessly and humorlessly about a breakup. An out-of-tune hunting horn warbles in the background. The song is filled with morose, melodramatic self-pity, completely devoid of wit, nuance, bite, or anything else that characterizes Pulp at their best. “Silence” instead takes every element of Pulp’s gothy, arty period and executes them as incompetently as possible. It endures to this day as a camp artifact, the band’s very own Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Common People

Oh jeez, where to begin with this one, huh? Well, without this song, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Pulp. This blog certainly wouldn’t exist, and the band probably wouldn’t be currently embarking on a rapturously received reunion tour.

Seventeen years after its release, “Common People” is still a tricky thing to unpack. It applies the rage of punk rock to fabulous guitar-pop. It handily encompasses two of Jarvis’ main obsessions – class and sex. The song does this through the story of a Greek art student who expresses to Jarvis a desire to live fashionably poor. This inspires in him a brilliant, sustained rant against anyone who would think to live a life of working-class desperation casually, something for a curious outsider to try on like a trendy, faux-worn shirt.

If I am completely honest, I can’t describe this song better than this blog post by British music writer Dorian Lynskey. I would like to amplify, however, that the key line of the song isn’t when the girl says “I want to sleep with common people like you.” It’s near the end, when Jarvis, at the end of his rope, snaps, “You will never understand.” It’s pained and righteous, even if (or because) in some ways Jarvis’ own feelings about the working class are as confused as the girl’s.

“Common People” is also an example of a band seizing its moment at just the right instant. There are of course many, many YouTube videos related to this song, but here is the band’s famous rendition of the song at Glastonbury in 1995. The BBC documentary, The Story of “Common People” is excellent and required viewing for any Pulp enthusiast.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I am cheating a bit with this song. This is the only Pulp song I will write about here that is still technically unreleased. But while it’s never appeared on a Pulp album, single, anthology, or a multi-artist compilation, it was used in the Sheffield music documentary The Beat is the Law, a film that features a lot of Pulp info, as well as interviews with Jarvis and other members. Plus, the production company behind the film, Sheffield Vision, has posted the entire song on its YouTube page. So it is released in a way. And I can only assume it was all sanctioned by the band.

“Rattlesnake” was a key Pulp track even before all this, when it was just oft-bootlegged. Recorded at Sheffield’s prestigious FON Studios in 1987, it was the band’s first foray in a professional, state-of-the art facility, with session support from a small string section, to boot. With its rippling acoustic guitars, off-kilter keyboard stabs and Russell Senior’s enthused Euro-folk violin, the track is certainly miles above, fidelity wise, anything off of Freaks. (Plans to release “Rattlesnake” through FON’s label were unfortunately never realized, adding to the band’s streak of bad luck in the ‘80s.)

The track is well-regarded by many Pulp fans as a true lost classic. Like many of their songs from this era, the song is fraught with intrigue and drama, as Jarvis sings about a small quick moment that can suddenly change everything. In the case of “Rattlesnake,” he’s referring to a love affair, and he seems conflicted by intense feelings of both desire and fear; a potent combination, and a testament to Jarvis’ increasing skills as a lyric writer and singer. (It’s also a sign that he’s moved on from the self-indulgent, tone-deaf misery of many Freaks songs.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sink or Swim

In February of 2012, Fire Records reissued the 1983-1992 output of Pulp, again. They included some bonus tracks. However, this is the only song (if not recording) to be added on that was previously unreleased. “Sink or Swim” is an outtake from It. Like the songs from that album, it’s dominated by soft crooning from Jarvis. Unlike those other songs, there’s a prominent synth part, making it something of a bridge between the sound of the band’s first Peel Session in 1981, and the sound of the band they would become in the ‘90s.

Although “Sink or Swim” is a pretty mellow affair, it shares key elements with more immediately gripping Pulp songs. In a 1994 interview, Jarvis summarized the song’s theme as “standing on the threshold of life.” Maybe in a quiet way, this is Jarvis’ vow to avoid an easy conventional life, diving instead into uncertainty for the sake of art, and his dreams. Like, say, “Countdown” or “Monday Morning,” it deals with the struggle and fear that comes with trying to live a worthwhile life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

That Boy's Evil

Some of Pulp’s greatest songs are b-sides: “Blue Glow,” “Seconds,” “The Professional.” Then there’s this. Easily the most disposable of the This is Hardcore offcuts – if not of Pulp’s entire b-side oeuvre – “That Boy’s Evil” is basically a very low-rent Fatboy Slim impression, with a big beat supplemented by (probably sampled) ‘60s-style guitars, as a unidentified woman’s voice intones the title phrase every bar or so. There’s also a rather pointless interlude filled with snippets of conversation. It’s probably no coincidence that the band did not include this song on the deluxe edition of Hardcore. But at least it has some energy, and some novelty, so it’s not the absolute worst Pulp b-side. No, we’ll get to that soon.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coy Mistress

If I’m not mistaken, this is Pulp’s shortest song, at 1:27. It’s also one of their strangest. Backed by churchly organ, occasional xylophone bursts, and crashing explosion sounds, Russell Senior recites a slight rewrite of some verses from Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress.” Recorded in 1984, the song only appeared on two mid-‘80s compilation cassettes. “Coy Mistress” is one of the band artier, more obtuse explorations of the time period, although it’s curiously devoid of the miserablism that characterizes so much of the rest of their output during this era.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

His 'n' Hers

I can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about this song. “His ‘n’ Hers” is the last track on The Sisters EP, which I tend to consider Pulp’s crowning achievement, actually.

Has anyone combined salaciousness with raw human need as well as Jarvis does here? The song is a bump-and-grind epic that also expresses all sorts of unvarnished terrors, most prominently the fear of a boring, staid existence that feels like a death sentence. Like many Pulp songs of this era, this kind of existence is expressed as life in the suburbs. But is this line equally a swipe at Morrissey? I’m frightened of James Dean posters.

The band is on top-form here: Russell’s spaghetti western guitar; Candida’s organs and synths, alternately bubbling and sea-sick; the unerring drama of the Mackey/Banks rhythm section. At the conclusion, the song rises to an almost unbearable crescendo that then ends abruptly. Awesome.

This TV performance is an absolute classic, with an amazing Jarvis monologue. On Pulp’s reunion tour of 2011-2012, the song has so far only been performed once, at the very first show of the tour, in Toulouse, France. Here’s a clip.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Back in LA

The second and final b-side from the Caff single of “My Legendary Girlfriend” was recorded in late 1984. So it’s Pulp in their cacophonous and vaguely gothy phase. “Back in LA” is a handy combination of The Fall and Joy Division, two bands the group pulled a lot of their sound from during this period. The song also seems to be almost completely nonsensical. You can tell no one from this band had ever set foot in L.A. at this point. And yet, maybe because it’s little over two minutes, there’s something appealing and even catchy about the enthused racket they concocted here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sickly Grin

There were two b-sides to the 1992 Caff single version of “My Legendary Girlfriend.” Both of them were outtakes from Pulp’s past, each recorded by completely different lineups that didn’t bear much resemblance to the one that made “MLG.” The first b-side, “Sickly Grin,” was the earlier song, recorded during the 1982 sessions for the band’s first album, It. Despite the fact that the band lineup from It never appeared on another Pulp song, “Sickly Grin,” unlike the rest of that album, bears some resemblance to Pulp’s most famous sound. The song opens with a catchy, driving bass line and features rudimentary, bright keyboards. The vocal melody snakes unpredictably, while still remaining appealing. It’s almost enough to distract from the fact that Jarvis’ lyric is a bit inelegant and clunky. He’s addressing his need to show his emotions truthfully, rather than indulge in “false jollity.” He’s trying to sound intelligent and perceptive, but he doesn’t yet have the command over language to make it work.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Legendary Girlfriend

This is what you get when Sheffield misfits curious about acid house music attempt to imitate Barry White. And yet, this is also much, much more than that.

I’ve probably been moving the goalposts throughout this blog but, really, this is the first (quint)essential Pulp song. Somehow, by combining throbbing dance beats, cinematic synths, funky wah-wah guitar and a Jarvis monologue/vocal for the ages, the band found their modus operandi, created the first epic, and even finally attained a small bit of mainstream attention, when the NME gave the song its Single of the Week award. Even the song title is perfect, evocative and yet tantalizingly open-ended.

That’s what makes this song so compelling – its unknowingness. Why, for example, does Jarvis alternate between referring to the Girlfriend in second and third person? And yet, through the lyric’s strange mix of desire, seediness and poetry, it achieves a real meaning beyond the literal, a compelling sense of intrigue against the backdrop, as always, of Jarvis’ hometown.

Pulp released two versions of the song. Of course, there’s the original, single, also found on Separations (And here’s the low-low budget video.) But the band also released a limited-edition single with a soundcheck version of the song on Caff Records, a tiny label run by friend-of-Pulp Bob Stanley, also a member of St. Etienne. This version gives a good idea of how the band performed the song live. There are no programmed beats, just hard-charging drums, bashes at the Farfisa and here-goes-nothing guitar. Jarvis’ vocal is similarly unhinged, with plenty of asides and non-sequiters; at one point, he even lets out a Flavor Flav-like “Boyeee!” Needless to say, the Caff single is very rare now.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Street Operator

Another also-ran from the demo sessions for This is Hardcore, “Street Operator” could’ve possibly been molded into something worthy of that album. With lyrics that satirize denizens of the drugged-out Britpop era, the song would’ve fit thematically. At the point of this recording, however, melodically “Street Operator” is a rather unmemorable ballad, and the band plays it listlessly. It’s no real loss.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is This House?

I normally don’t really talk about Pulp remixes here – for one, they’re not very well-regarded. Also, I really know just about nothing about dance music. But since this remix of “This House is Condemned” is given a different title, it seems worth treating as a separate entity. Helmed by Sheffield house-music DJs Parrot and Winston, “Is This House?” is also a centerpiece of a witty scene from the recent, Pulp-centric music documentary The Beat is the Law. Check out the clip here, with commentary from the two DJs, as well as Jarvis, Russell, Candida and Nick.

As for the track itself, it sounds pretty dated, but effectively spooky, especially the weird treatment on Russell’s voice, making it sound like a choppy, distant transmission. It reminds me of the late-‘90s glitch craze, which wound up influencing Radiohead’s Kid A pretty significantly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mile End

Now, where was I…

Thanks to some encouragement from the fine folks at Bar Italia – plus today’s announcement of the first Pulp show on the U.S. East Coast since 1998 – I have decided to finally take this blog out of the mothballs and write about the 14 remaining released Pulp songs.

We’ll begin (again) with yet another contender for Most Well-Known Pulp Song in America. Thanks to its inclusion in the film Trainspotting (and its equally seminal soundtrack CD), “Mile End” was quite possibly many American fans’ real introduction to the band. The arch, art-glam melody and Jarvis’ quivering, sarcastic falsetto gave us our first indication that this band was very different from Oasis, Blur, etc.

“Mile End” was recorded during the Different Class sessions, and fits pretty handily into that album’s loose concept. In 1989, while studying film at St. Martin’s College, Jarvis lived in a squat in a decrepit high-rise apartment building in the Mile End section of London. He later called it “the worst nine months of my entire life.” And so, the lyrics detail a life surrounded by squalor, crime and despair with plenty of vivid detail. The jaunty music may sound merely ironic, but the way the two-note melody and Jarvis’ vocal fall on the words “Mile End” cements the helplessness, rage and sadness of the song.

The song is a sharp reminder: This is what it can be like to feel different, to strike out on your own and to reach a dead end. Sometimes, your talents and dreams are not rewarded. In fact, they can lead to a seemingly endless series of indignities.