“You can dance to our music, but it’s easier if you’re a Cossack.” – Russell in “Cut”, circa August 1987
How much of the value of a piece of music can be put down to scarcity? ‘Rattlesnake’ was once the holy grail for Pulp fans – a legendary professional recording of a raved-about* live favourite, slated for release, shelved indefinitely, and now lost to the mists of time, while rumours of DAT copies circulated for hundreds of pounds. Then, suddenly, it was leaked, and not long after used on the closing credits of Sheffield scene documentary The Beat Is The Law. We’ve all seen these cases before – the gem is unearthed, and turns out to be just another lump of coal – only this time, somehow, the song lived up to the hype.
Even after a thousand listens, it’s an odd thing, though – such an archetypal ’87 Pulp song that it doesn’t seem to even be real. All the usual influences are there – Slavic folk music, of course, but also Scott Walker – Mark Sturdy has pointed out the similarity of the introduction to the start of “The Seventh Seal” from Scott 4. Lyrically, we’re also retreading familiar old ground – a melodramatic treatment of a return to a regrettable relationship. This time, though, we’ve taken a massive leap forward. Everything sounds bigger, better, more professional. It might be entirely to do with the strain of writing this blog (poor me, etc), but there’s something almost shocking about hearing this modern Jarvis clearly expressing himself, talking about return to a bad relationship as usual, but now with an underlying current of sexual tension, whilst at the same time behind him there’s no smooth Chris Thomas stadium-indie product or even electro-pop, but instead Russell goading the group to a frantic Slavic stomp-rock climax. What if the group had been given this level of expertise and studio time for the recording of ‘Freaks’?
No use crying over spilt milk, though, is there? What we have here might be the only decently-produced remnant of this phase, but at least they chose the right track. The absolute apex of Russell’s Eastern-European campaign, ‘Rattlesnakes’ sounds for the world like the Klezmer band at the gates of hell, raising the massed demons to a climax and sending them out into the world to undertake a campaign of shock and awe. To my mind at least, that’s what proper Slavic folk should do, and (strange as it is to say) on this evidence they seem to have a real knowledge of the form. The effect may be down to the presence of a string quartet, hired for the day – or rather a string trio, as one member failed to play to the standard required and had to be embarrassingly let go halfway through the session.
“And the hardest part…. the hardest part is when you stop!”
It’s hard to begrudge them the trick ending – every band is allowed to do this one time, and it’s hard to think of a more suitable time to try it. Then they come back even faster and harder, and we’re cruising.
Suffice to say, it’s a massive shame that FON never got around to releasing this single, and perhaps the disappointment felt by the group explains the dropping of the song from the set and its non-inclusion on the remastered ‘Separations’ in 2012. For us, the something-more-than-casual listeners, though, it’s just good that it’s out there, a little reminder that digging down sometimes gets you a nugget of gold.
*In Melody Maker and Sounds, no less.