A year on from ‘It’ Jarvis’s perspective on love has shifted considerably. Let’s take a look.
Before: “Am I loving the girl or the feeling I feel? Is it just the idea that I like or is it for real?”
After: “Now we’ve come to the end of it all, see it squirming, almost dead. No, you can’t leave, you can’t leave it to die here in pain, you’ve got to stamp upon its head.”
There’s plenty of horror and melodrama in Pulp’s early oeuvre, but this is the first time it’s not just an act or a game. Clearly 1983 saw Jarvis entering into a real relationship – and aren’t first relationships always that way? You’re expecting sweetness and light and everything turns out to be more complex and messy than you could ever imagine. This is a display of emotional masochism – love is a terrible, destructive thing, but he’s unable to resist it. Keeping her means ‘throwing himself away’, though later we find it’s not a surrender but mutually assured destruction First she must “fit in the space that I provide you” then soon we find he’ll “kill you in the end.” It’s dark stuff, verging on histrionic at times, but ultimately the vocal performance sells it. Recent live performances have really brought this home – Jarvis no longer sounds like he believes in this kind of love (quite naturally for a man in his late 40s) and replacing belief with vocal theatrics makes the whole thing sound forced and false.
Aside from first relationships, I Want You represents a couple of other firsts too – it’s the first of a series of dark sixties ballads that would characterise the next few years, and it’s the first we hear of Jarvis’s deep croon, a vocal style matched to these occasions. Unlike later examples, though, it has a subtle progression – as the vocals are often at a double rhythm to the beat you can barely notice the tempo and volume slowly building through the track. More lip-service is also paid to the source material here, with a Spector-esque ‘bom-bom-bom-bom’ backing vocal and a brief (though memorable) garage breakdown at the end.
The first recording of ‘I Want You’ was for the new Pulp’s first demo, recorded at Vibrasound studios in January 1984, before the band had even played in public. It’s a rough production, but one that suits the song more – everything sounds meaty and primitive, and the vocals have so much reverb they’re almost distorted – it brings to mind dusty footage of an obscure European music TV programme. The version of the song that appears on Freaks, while being more technically accomplished, sounds a bit weedy in comparison. The greatest loss is Magnus’s drums, which have been reduced from an ominous clatter to a weedy tin chirrup.
Though ‘I Want You’ has never really got the recording it deserved, it’s still obvious that something new and special is happening here, and that’s why it’s been resurrected so often as an oldie to play in encores, from 1994 to 1998 and even at a festival in Hungary in 2010.