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.)