“It was not at all clear to me now why we had put her in the trunk in the first place. At the time it had been obvious, to keep the family together. Was that a good reason? It might have been more interesting to be apart. Nor could I think whether what we had done was an ordinary thing to do.” – Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden
Where to start with ‘Cousins’, arguably the most opaque entry in the Pulp canon? One of the first questions anyone has about a song is “what’s it about?” – well, clearly it’s about something, we’re not dealing with a stream of nonsense or a patchwork of meaningful-sounding clichés here. But beyond that it really is hard to tell much more. We have a twisted relationship (“I’ll take you on the table / I will creep into your garden”), a dysfunctional family (“your mother’s weighted down with the drinks she’s tried “) and a repressed memory of some historical horror (“you can’t escape the blood and shit / You can’t escape, you’re stuck with it”), but how these standard ’84-Pulp themes tie together is frankly anybody’s guess. The lyric is either a well-constructed imitation or the genuine article – a dark recollection of… something, phrased in an off-handed, reticent manner in order to prevent the terrible truth from emerging.
Musically the song is an odd mishmash of styles which somehow just about works. Running through the whole piece is an ominous two-note bass riff, accompanied by variations on a twangy guitar phrase. So far, so “Take You Back,” but there’s more energy here, a smooth, hip energy, and when the jazzy brushed drums come in on the chorus we’re suddenly on the verge of psychobilly – a transition that becomes complete in the final section. An odd journey, and one that doesn’t entirely click, but the contrast never seems jarring. Instead it seems like a song in development – a promising one, which with a bit of thought and direction could be polished into a classic. But it wasn’t to be – after one demo and one live performance the song was abandoned, presumably because the band had gone through their psychobilly flirtations and were looking to build a more coherent album.
Not exactly a lost classic, then, but not bad either. It would’ve made a good b-side for Maureen.