Like most young bands trying to make it on a local scene, Pulp Mk 1 had a theme tune, a poppy crowdpleaser that everyone could get behind. ‘Please Don’t Worry’ seems to have been popular with band and audience alike – it was a staple of their set even up to late 82, when the band’s line-up and sound had changed considerably. So why does it sound so out of place now?
Play the song to an unsuspecting member of the public and they would most likely imagine the song to be an indie-pop hit from the early 90s, a chirrupy strummy thing with a silly electronic sample over the verses and a swirling organ-like keyboard riff over the chorus. The first time I heard the session (in 1995 when Jarvis and Nick visited John Peel’s house) I couldn’t quite believe that this wasn’t a new track in the vein of We Can Dance Again or Mile End* – only more silly and cheerful, a bouncy, jolly bit of light relief. The trouble with “bouncy” and “jolly”, though, is that they are apt to morph into “annoying”, and as the years have passed my enjoyment has waned and my iritation risen.
The main problem is the main keyboard riff. Eight years later the band would be experimenting with some very unusual electronic noises indeed, but it’s a credit to Candida that they always bear up to repeated listening, showing hidden layers of complexity, even when they are dressed up to be naff and tacky. The riff on ‘Please Don’t Worry”, on the other hand, sounds like someone has just bought a new keyboard, and hasn’t worked out how to play anything more complex. At once it’s the centre of the song and at the same time drowns it out.
Another issue is the drumming. Wayne Furniss, lacking any professional equipment, had bought along a syn-drum made from a plan in ‘Practical Electronics’ magazine. A schoolfriend had constructed it from an electric calculator and a burglar alarm mat as a project, and it didn’t survive the journey to London in working condition. As Wayne crouched on the floor, bashing away on the thing, trying to get some sort of sound out of it, Dale Griffin apparently put his head in his hands. Eventually the thing was fixed, but the sound produced was far from satisfactory, a basic rhythm that struggles to stay in time throughout the song.
The vocals are also problematic. There’s nothing wrong with lyrics that are sincere, surreal, simple or obscure, but here I suspect that Jarvis has adopted the technique of putting together a list of phrases that sound like they could mean something – the dark arts, in other words, and the curse of Oasis and Coldplay. One of the reasons Jarvis is generally a successful lyricist is that he resists this tactic – Please Don’t Worry may represent his only slip.
I don’t want to pretend that this song is terrible – in fact, it has quite a bit going for it – I can’t deny that it’s catchy and fun, and the “I feel fine, I’m having a good time” coda sounds satisfyingly sarcastic. but I still skip it.
This week has seen the release of another version of Please Don’t Worry, and as it’s on an official album it may well end up being the more well-known version. The recording is from a year later, during the ‘It’ sessions, when Pulp had an entirely different lineup, aside from Jarvis of course. While that lineup was a lot more musically accomplished, they also seemed to be less adaptable. The fizzy proto-britpop of the song seems to have baffled them – only Jarvis seems to be on the ball, with everyone else playing parts they have learned, but haven’t really understood or appreciated. On the plus side, this means that the song is less annoying – the broken synth sound replaced by a swirling organ, the backing staying in time, little extra fills and flourishes throughout – but in the final analysis it sounds like a cover version, and a half hearted one at that.
*Neither of which I’d heard at the time, of course.