“It would have been easier to stay in Sheffield – I knew lots of people and felt I had the measure of the place, and then you come to London. In Sheffield, everyone congregates in the centre of town at weekends, which of course they don’t do in London, so I’d do sad things like ending up walking around Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night, wondering where everybody was, but of course it’s all tourists.” – Jarvis in ‘Pulp’ by Martin Aston, 1996.
Sheffield is bigger than I thought it was. With more than half a million people it’s the third most populous urban district in the UK, bigger than Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol or Bradford. In England, though, anything that isn’t London is “the sticks” – and some spend much of their lives dreaming of escape.
“Don’t You Want Me Anymore” is a projection, or a premonition – perhaps a nightmare. Jarvis was still living in Sheffield, for the moment at least, but his time was drawing to a close. He’d moved out of the factory building off The Wicker, and moved in with Russell, who was learning that his bandmate spent his days buying useless nicknaks from jumble sales, cooking inedible food and not doing the washing up. More importantly, he was taking a foundation course at Sheffield Poly, and would have been in the process of applying to universities as the song was written. Soon he would be down in London, his ties to his hometown forever stretched, his view of the place no longer prosaic but instead a free flight of fantasy.
For now, that view hasn’t coalesced, but we have at least moved on from faulty relationships to less-well trodden, more fertile ground. Like Master Of The Universe a year before, Don’t You Want Me Anymore deals with what we might call the ‘bedsit ego’ – the arbitrary inflation or deflation of your self-esteem when you live in a world where it isn’t pegged to anything solid. Instead of relying on sci-fi cliché, though, we’re presented with a more real-world example. The narrator has left his home-town in disgust – both with the city and his now ex-girlfriend, who, in a delicious nod to Chris De Burgh, is described with “I’ve never seen you look so ugly as the way you did that night.” He’s been away, made his name elsewhere, and now is coming back home an imagined prodigal son, returning in triumph to revel in his power over and pity for the girl and ungraciously receive the adoration of all the other people who’ve missed him so much.
Inevitably, the return is a bit of a let-down. The girl has moved on, is no longer interested, only wants to “wave and say goodbye” – and the rest of the town have come to see him, yes, but instead of the ticker-tape parade he’d expected they only want to laugh and jeer at him. He’s not a returning hero, just a failure who was too weak to stick it out in the first place.
It’s a delicious little parable, all the more so for being perfectly plausible, and the fact that there’s a faint whiff of melodrama about the whole proceedings seems fine, this time. Behind Jarvis’s theatrical vocals the rest of the group spin out a jerky Gypsy tango, with haughty violin and march-time drumming from Nick, in what Mark Sturdy describes as “spaghetti western high drama” – and while this sound would end up being yet another of the musical cul-de-sacs followed by the group in the late 80s, it was at least one of the more scenic ones.
That there was something fairly special going on here must’ve been clear to the group, as Don’t You Want Me Anymore was chosen as the lead track to be recorded for the group’s first single on the nascent FON records, the studio and record label that would serve as the precursor to Warp Records in the 1990s. This version, whose release was repeatedly put off, and finally shelved permanently, is fairly similar to the version released on Separations years later, with a few minor, but important changes. The FON version relies more on Jarvis’s Portasound keyboard, features much less in the way of gasps and noises from Jarvis, and struggles to escape the twin issues of Steven Havenhand’s weak bassline and Nick’s difficulty in playing naturally along with the keyboard. The live treatment given by Alan Smythe during the Separations sessions fits the song much better, with layers of keyboard lines used to add flavour and colour to the song rather than keep fixed in tandem with it.
Here, then, is the sound of a confident band who seem to know moreorless what they are doing. Yes, we’ve still got a jumble of seemingly random influences jostling for position, but suddenly they seem to be able to slot them all together into something that makes sense. The fact that this would end up sounding very much like The Past when placed among the likes of “My Legendary Girlfriend” just goes to show what giant leaps the group were about to make.