We’ve seen plenty of odd decisions from Pulp in the 1980s, both creatively and commercially, but nothing comes close to the time and effort spent on the utter folly that is ‘Manon’. It was the subject of the group’s earliest available music video, chosen as a representative track on the ‘Imminent 4’ compilation on the fledgling Food Records, and finally dragged out of the archives as a b-side to the line-up’s final single, Master of the Universe. Accompanied there by the unremittingly awful ‘Silence’ it sounds, well, acceptable. But is ‘acceptable’ enough?
The concept is clear; another horrific tale of a relationship gone sour – only this time the woman is dead and the man can’t bring himself to properly dispose of her body, a bit like a melancholy version of Weekend At Bernie’s, then, only without any (intentional) comedy. The protagonist is called Manon, a name Jarvis had borrowed from a Serge Gainsbourg song of the same name, erroneously believing it to be male. His poor grasp of the language is further exposed in the final verse, where he outlines in mortifying schoolboy French that “Sa femme est morte – oui, c’est vrai.” – later he would comment that he “spoil[ed] it by speaking in French towards the end, which is embarrassing” – but his vocal performance throughout is also very much short of being something special, the melody requiring him to make sudden gulping leaps, which his artificially low baritone is unable to manage.
“Manon’ is not without its strengths. The tune itself, though dirge-like, has a certain mournful atmosphere, and without the vocals could conceivably be worked into something quite beautiful. Russell’s violin, sometime Achilles heel of the group, here fits the theme perfectly. You can imagine him as the poor deluded widower playing a requiem on his broken old fiddle. There’s no use talking about missed potential and hidden qualities, though. Manon simply isn’t enjoyable to listen to, and were it gone from the Pulp discography it’s unlikely that anyone would miss it.