In 2006, when Pulp released expanded versions of His ‘n’ Hers, Different Class and This Is Hardcore, I had just moved to China and was watching from afar, lacking any funds in my UK bank account, annoyed that I’d have to wait unil 2007 (at the earliest) to hear any of the new tracks. Eventually I managed to download a single track, and took it around to a generally Pulp-positive friend’s house to listen to. It was about 2am after we’d been out drinking, the song was Watching Nicky and the universal impression was “this isn’t very good.”
What we were hearing was another abandoned track from the 1992 Island demo tape, but this time it’s easy to hear why the song’s lifespan was cut short. Watching Nicky was, according to Jarvis, another attempt to try to recapture the magic of Babies (which, lest we forget, was originally called “Nicky’s Song”) – but even without this admission the purpose is clear. In a sense it’s a rewriting of Razzmatazz too, as the song also features an ex-girlfriend who is down on her luck, but while the contrast between the downbeat lyrics and upbeat worked there, if you squinted a little, here the divide is nothing short of jarring. It’s a mid-tempo indie song with a sad lyric about a girl, and that is basically it.
What went wrong, then? The lyrics are a start. Apparently a genuine ex-girlfriend from just a couple of years before, Nicky still seems more like an achetype than a real person, a retread of the Little Girl (with Blue Eyes) but with the edges all sanded off. Not melodrama or kitchen sink, just depressing stuff that happens to people – believable, but lacking in insight. One verse talks about hiding under a bridge* while kids throw stones, which is a nice enough anecdote, but it’s just dumped there and hastilly tied into the narrative with a line about how she should’ve run away. The music itself follows suit – it’s not bad as such, listened to casually it sounds ok, but on closer inspection there’s nothing much of anything there. There’s a certain clunky artlessness about the way the sections of the song transition into each-other which sounds like a thousand first demos from local indie bands – again, not actively offensive, just lacking in anything to distinguish it – predictable in a way that Pulp never had been before. True, there is a certain interest in the weird, distorted (deliberately?) out of tune guitar on the verses, but again I wouldn’t go as far as calling it “good.”
Who knows, maybe with a bit of reworking and nurturing Watching Nicky could’ve blossomed into something worth releasing, but my gut instinct says there’s not enough there.
* Actually the aqueduct later to feature in the infinitely superior “Wickerman” nine years later.