Why do British post-punks have such a fixation with Los Angeles? Perhaps it’s because it’s such an alien world; blistering sun instead of drizzle, full of grinning, tanned humanoids whose manner seems implausible and whose actions seem inexplicably choreographed. Perhaps it’s because they (like me) have only ever seen it on TV. And the greatest post-punk track about the city? Well, that’s probably The Fall’s ‘L.A.’ It’s definitely not Pulp’s ‘Back in LA’.
If ‘Back in LA’ sounds like a half-formed sibling of ‘Maureen’ then that’s because that’s what it is. Both songs date back to Russell’s days in The Nightmares, both were commandeered by Pulp MK 3 with new lyrics added by Jarvis, and both were recorded for the “Ping Pong Jerry” demo of November 1984. While Maureen is a bit of a rough-hewn diamond, though, Back in LA is more like a lump of malformed shale, lacking much in the way of lyrical insight, a hook, a tune, or, well, anything really. There is some potential here – it could be refashioned as an all-out psychobilly thrash, and when Jarvis screams the chorus you can imagine that cranking everything up a little would turn it into something. The verses, however, are unsaveable – a dreary two-note punk thrash with Jarvis half-heartedly mumbling meaningless lyrics, sounding like he’s been up for a week and is reading from an autocue.
‘Back in LA’ languished in the vaults for eight years before being dug out as a curio to put on the B-side of Pulp’s limited edition release of ‘My Legendary Girlfriend’ on the Caff label in 1992. Twenty years after that the group finally played Los Angeles, and the song was included as a surprise choice for the second encore, apparently at the suggestion of Candida.
As unlovable as it is, Back in LA is a funny enough novelty, two minutes of something odd we won’t be hearing again. Just don’t expect it to crop up on anyone’s list of favourites.