97 Lovers (b-side to Dogs Are Everywhere, 1986)
97 Lovers (live video – 10th July 1985 – Gotham City Club, Fascinations Nitespot, Chesterfield )
97 Lovers at Pulpwiki
“Why 97? It could just have easily been 970 or 9,700. Just take a short walk around town and you soon lose count of the deformities. By the way, what’s that growing on your back?” – Original sleeve notes
Don’t those notes just sum up nicely everything that’s right and wrong about Pulp at this point? An explanation that fails to explain anything, but instead broadens and muddies the story beyond all comprehensibility. Or, put another way, an explanation which refuses to be tied down to a prosaic recounting of events, instead building a vivid mythology around the song. Which explanation you go for depends on your willingness to suspend your disbelief – and the same can be said for ’97 Lovers’ as a whole.
The song itself is a fairly simple pair of vignettes, united by an overarching theme of… what? Unhappy love lives? The universality of romantic frustration? An obvious comparison would be Eleanor Rigby – except these lonely people have their own personal insecurities feeding their troubled relationships. That is even a stretch, though – the couple in the first scene (besides being fairly strange) seem to have nothing so terribly wrong with them. It would be odd if they did, as the woman involved was Jarvis’s aunt.
“That was the first time I got some good lyrics out. One bit was about my auntie – in her bedroom, she had a picture of Roger Moore above the bed, with this short toweling dressing gown. I always thought ‘God, it’s weird when they’re in bed having it off under that picture. My uncle must know she’s probably thinking of Roger while he’s doing it to her.'” – Jarvis in Record Collector, 1994
The second section features a woman putting on a brave face after a break-up, only for her attempts to come to nothing when her ex returns, “picks her heart up off the table / and he watches it smash on the floor.” Compared the the first verse it’s fairly generic, and again you have to wonder what the message is. Love is a painful business? Of course it can be, but here it sounds like that’s the only sort. Pulp sound a bit one-note at this point, and a special effort is needed to ‘sell’ the misery, or else they might easily veer into self-parody.
Fortunately the band put in a performance which achieves exactly this. Jarvis darkly intones the lyrics like a man who has just seen something unspeakably terrible, and can barely bring himself to tell you about it. Magnus’s timpani ominously builds up, and Candida plays a simple, enduring four-note farfisa melody throughout. The highlight, though, is Russell’s mournful waltz-time-violin, providing the real sadness at the heart of the piece. ’97 Lovers’ isn’t a complete success – it has to catch the right person, in the right mood – but it does what it does well.