Saturday, February 9, 2013

After You

This is not an entry I was expecting to write. When Pulp reunited, they were cagey if not fully uninterested when the subject of new material was broached. But, after playing one of their last shows of their reunion tour, in Sheffield of course, audience members for that show received a gift: A Christmas card with a download code for this song. It didn't take long for the song to spread around on the internet, so in early 2013, the band made it available to everyone via iTunes and Amazon.

Pulp diehards were familiar with this song even before these events. It was known to be a rejected demo from the We Love Life era. Nick Banks at one point called it “an absolute lost classic.” The demo surfaced on the internet a few years ago, and it definitely showed promise: a tentative disco beat, catchy guitar-Mellotron interplay, and a Jarvis lyric that searched for renewal on the dance floor. The latter, especially, signaled a possible return to the sound and concerns of ’89-’95 Pulp.

The version that the band released in 2012 made good on that promise. The band wisely hired James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to produce. He tightened the rhythm, making the song an explicit dance-floor burner. Murphy’s skill for dance-rock merges for the 21st century is well-known, so he was an apt choice to produce. The result allows Pulp to reclaim some well-deserved credit for their success as a dance band.

The furiously strummed acoustic guitar that opens the song might have been lifted from the original demo. Almost everything else sounds new, though. Jarvis slightly revised the lyric, set in a nightlife that moves from transcendent discos to prosaic grocery chains. No matter where he is, though, he is seemingly torn between two potential romantic partners – one from the past and one he’s just met (shades of “My Legendary Girlfriend”). Overall, the song is a triumphant return to form – no guarantee whenever a band reunites. If Pulp never records anything else again, this song is as good an example as any of their worth; their meld of rock, pop, dance, and probably a few other things as well, and Jarvis’ lyrical mix of desire, wit and panic, among other concerns. It has been always been, and hopefully always will be, a pleasure for me to delve into their work.

Last Day of the Miners Strike

A new song recorded for the band’s 2002 Hits compilation (which did not do well commercially), “Last Day of the Miners’ Strike” was, for a long time, the last word from Pulp, in terms of new recorded music. As befits a band’s farewell, the feel of the song is valedictorian and elegiac. It’s anthemic, without going out of its way to be approachable. The song never veers away from a repeating chord sequence. And yet the music rises and swells in a rousing, inspiring way. Jarvis loosely, obliquely charts his personal history and a general, awakening political consciousness, in relation to Sheffield. (The city’s Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985 is a significant piece of UK history. It’s also a fairly seminal moment in the band’s story, as seen in The Beat is the Law.)

At the song’s close, the theme becomes a clear: It’s another plea to move on from the past, to make something inspiring in the present. Jarvis reckons with his history – both in terms of his hometown and his band -- in order to put it behind him. It shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone that Pulp went on indefinite hiatus shortly after this song came out.