“This one’s about wondering about someone who’s going out with your ex-girlfriend or your ex-boyfriend. it’s kind of soul-destroying.” – Live introduction
In 1991-1992 Pulp seem to have been on a concerted mission to write pop anthems with as wide an appeal and as intense a feel as possible. The strike rate was very high – from the first six or seven new songs introduced, Babies and O.U. are somewhere near perfect, and She’s A Lady and Razzmatazz are great too, only suffering from comparison. Then there were the slight missteps – first Live On, and now The Boss.
These two songs have a great deal in common – both were written in the aftermath of a hit (Countdown and Babies respectively) in an attempt to replicate their success, both received a rapturous reception when performed live, and both wilted and shriveled up under the harsh glare of studio lights. For Live On this resulted in a tortuous business of records and re-records until it was finally abandoned – with The Boss the group seem to have learned something, or at least have been too busy trying to save one lost classic to have had time for a second.
Both songs raise the same question, then; could it be perhaps that there is a certain magic to the muffled, thick sound produced by a PA system, the drive produced by a live audience, the mystery and possibilities of the song heightened and amplified, and that some songs just need these things in order to survive? Or is it just that the poor quality recording and live environment hide the song’s flaws? Truthfully, it’s impossibly to make a call on this, but it at least means that there’s always going to be good stuff out there for those who are willing to dig through bootlegs. The live version, then, is great, but the recorded version sucks, and life generally goes on as normal.
The Boss is a song of its own, though, not exactly like anything before or since, but containing hints of several other songs from the period – like somebody’s put Don’t You Want Me Anymore, Babies, Pencil Skirt and Pink Glove in a blender and fired the resultant mush out of a fireman’s hose. It’s a jaunty, fast paced, proto-britpop song, named ‘The Boss’ as it reminded the group of Bruce Springsteen. That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, but you sort of can hear the same kind of impassioned, pulsating, driving rhythm that the E-street band sometimes pumped out – the same force that The War Against Drugs have been successfully channeling the last few years.
The rest of the track fights against the name, though – the synths sound like they are straight out of an 80s gameshow theme tune, though the sample was lifted from Jarvis’s trusty BBC Radiophonics Workshop LP, and the power chords sound more like Def Leppard than Bruce. It’s not bad as such, but it’s a little unadventurous compared to other songs from the same time.
Lyrically we’re in slightly overfamiliar territory too. It’s another song about your ex’s new lover, another case of the narrator catching a train out of town – sound concepts, on the whole, but better used elsewhere before and after.
The Boss was one of six songs recorded for an Island demo in 1992. One of the tracks (which we’ll come to very soon) was re-dubbed and released, three were re-recorded later, and the remaining two only saw the light of day with the release of the “Deluxe” version of His ‘n’ Hers in 2006. The group seem to have had very little in the way of affection for the session. In Truth & Beauty Nick Banks said;
“We were just experimenting around that thing of writing ‘up’ songs, songs that people could get into, rather than slow ballads. Full-on, you know, really fast and aggressive. I listened to it a few months ago, dug some tapes out – for fuck’s sake! Couldn’t stand it.”
Though The Boss is regarded as something of a lost classic, i can’t help but sympathize with Nick here. Enough with the anthems, Pulp, let’s hear something different.