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.