#62 – Life Must Be So Wonderful

10 Nov

Life Must Be So Wonderful (Freaks, 1987)
Life Must Be So Wonderful at Pulpwiki

“I was in the middle of the first proper relationship I’d had. I’d gone into this terrible depression of finding out what relationships were really like, but not knowing how to deal with it – you go out with somebody for six months and spend another eighteen trying to split up. All in all, I was not a happy person.” – Jarvis Cocker, Record Collector, December 1994

There’s an odd contradiction at the heart of ‘Freaks’ era Pulp. On one hand there are soul-crushing brutally honest songs about a disastrous relationship, and on the other hand total radio silence (outside of the lyrics) as to even the most basic details of what that relationship was. Who was Jarvis’s girlfriend? What went wrong? For better or worse, this information is not in the public domain, and we have to respect their privacy. With songs like this, though, you do have to wonder what is left to be revealed. Everything’s going wrong, they’re both stuck and destroying each-other, but unable to end it.

This is Jarvis’s torch ballad – an agonized cry of pain from a relationship gone horribly wrong – or at least that’s what it should be, but the flesh is weak where the spirit is willing. There are moments where it almost works – the section starting with “now all our dreams melt in the sun” in particular sounds passionate and sincere, but there are as many moments where everything falls flat. The danger with this kind of exposure is looking ridiculous, but this isn’t the problem in this case. While you can’t doubt the truth in the words, the performance is undeniably poor.

The main culprit here is Jarvis’s voice. The lounge singer croon he adopted in the 80s was useful when grimly intoning the likes of ‘Blue Glow’, but extending it to the range needed for this kind of performance seems to be way beyond his capabilities. Even bearing this in mind, you’ve got to think “wasn’t there time to get a better take?” – but that’s all we have. Fortunately the croon was dropped for a higher range by the end of the decade – a range that let Jarvis perform vocal acrobatics with ease.

The rest of the band aren’t helping things either. Candida contributes a slightly out of tune organ and irritating little stabs of tinny keyboard when the song should be rising to a climax. A half-hearted guitar strums away, but adds very little – at one point breaking out into the most non-solo solo of all time. The only member on form is Magnus, whose complex jazz drum patterns strike exactly the right note.

Underneath all of this, there is a great song straining to get out, perhaps the greatest of the 80s ballads, but it takes a patient ear to hear it under the poor performance and muddy production. It sounds like a failed first take, an opportunity for the clarity of studio equipment to allow the group to see the song’s flaws and rethink it. Time and money were short, however, and this is all we’ve got. Does anyone want to have a try at making a decent quality remake?

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