“In Sheffield I lived in an old factory building which was right in the centre of town, so coming back from nightclubs at two or three in the morning I would just walk through a semi-derelict industrial landscape to get home. I got kind of used to that thing of walking through deserted places, feeling that you had the city to yourself at that time of the night, which was great because being somebody on social security or whatever at the time, in a band, leading a fairly precarious existence, you certainly didn’t feel that you owned the town when it was light and when it was getting on with its business, but when everyone else was asleep you could walk through and really feel like it belonged to you.” – Jarvis Cocker’s Wireless Nights, BBC Radio 4, 2012
The 1991 film Les Amants du Pont-Neuf has one of the most inspired opening scenes of all time. A homeless man, strung out on drink and pills, stumbles down a vast deserted highway, eventually lying down and passing out in the middle of the road. Cars career down the road, swerving when they see his prostrate form, until one fails to notice him and runs painfully over his ankle. A woman with a dirty eye-patch and a mop of bedraggled black hair runs over to him, and helps him onto a night bus full of other casualties of the city.
When most musicians sing about the night at one time or another, they stick to the club and the bedroom, but there’s a city out there – the same streets, the same buildings, but deserted save for the odd straggler, silent enough that an occasional noise can imbue everything with sudden drama. Jarvis knew this world intimately, and a Pulp geography of Sheffield would surely be placed at 4am, after the last clubber has gone home, but before the first milkman has started making his rounds.
‘Blue Glow’ is the famous balcony scene – only here Juliet is wrapped up inside, watching late night TV on her own, and Romeo is lurking in the bushes below her window. He’s not malicious, just scared… lost in the city, following her out of desperation – a longing for someone to join him. It’s not so much love as a frantic need – she could be anyone, or no-one – perhaps she doesn’t even exist. By the end he’s a lost cause, wandering dirty and shivering by the river with his clothes in tatters, still pleading with her to come and make everything better.
These are some of Jarvis’s strongest lyrics, but they wouldn’t stand up as well as they do without a fine showing from the rest of the band. Peter Mansell in particular puts in one of his best performances – his curious, seedy bass line sets the tone for the whole song, propelling it through various spasmodic pulsations from Russell’s violin and the gothic chiming of Candia’s dulcimer. The verses are perhaps the apex of Pulp’s ‘dark sixties ballad’ phase – understated but perfectly judged, tuneful with a creeping underlying menace.
The chorus is a whole different affair, though. On one hand it’s a solid hook for the track – a blurting of passion to relieve the tension of the verses – and certainly it’s memorable enough. On the other hand there’s a sense that perhaps they are trying too hard here. Matched with something else, it could be perfectly good, but contrasted with the perfection of the verses it can’t help but be a bit of a let-down.
Blue Glow wasn’t anyone’s favourite at the time, but since fans began to explore the group’s early work in the mid 90s it’s been rated as one of the highlights of this era. I even named my first fanzine after it. The inclusion of the track on the compilation “Untitled 3” means that thousands of mainstream indie fans have a copy of it, uniquely for anything else pre-Separations. I wonder what they make of Russell’s wall of screeching violin noise at the climax.