Comparing Pulp’s 1980s to their 1990s is a bit of a grim, one-sided affair. The songs are worse in almost every way, the recording is muddy and half-hearted, the lyrics are often ponderous and melodramatic and a general air of frustration hangs over the whole project. There is one upside, though – in the 80s the band would often work out new ideas in front of an audience, rather than in a recording studio, and it’s easier to see how the whole process works.
One recording, recently unearthed, gives a particular insight into the state of the band around the time they recorded ‘Freaks’. In front of a home crowd at Sheffield Uni, Pulp play a heavy, aggressive set. The supporting act were Lay Of The Land, featuring future Pulp bassist Steven Havenhand (plus the founders of Warp Records), and in the audience were Treebound Story, including a young Richard Hawley. Faced with a less-hostile-than-average crowd, they go down very well indeed, even though half the set is comprised of obscurities like ‘Heavy Metal’.
This is the only known version of this song in existence, and prior to the bootleg emerging it was unknown even to the band’s biographers. Though still not by any means a finished work, it has been developed far beyond the improvised jams used to fill in whenever someone needed to argue with the sound tech guy.
While ‘Heavy Metal’ isn’t really like anything else in Pulp’s catalogue, it’s not particularly original either. A semi-glam-stomper, semi-white-light-white-heat-homage, it winds up as a mid-tempo boogie rock along the lines of Jonathan Richman’s ‘Roadrunner‘, Denim’s ‘Middle of the Road‘ and Blur’s ‘MOR‘ – but without the chorus. Fundamentally it’s a band jam with a few added bits and pieces, including a full set of (barely audible) lyrics from Jarvis which seem to be little more than simple romantic overtures. It isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not anything special. A properly recorded version would most likely have been the kind of EP-filler the band generally went out of their way not to produce. They could be bad, or dull, certainly, but never in such a predictable way – and that’s quite possibly why the song failed to make any further appearances.