Lipgloss (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
Lipgloss (music video, 1993)
Lipgloss (live film, ‘The Word’ 1993)
Lipgloss (live film, ‘Butt Naked’ 1994)
Lipgloss (live film, 1994)
Lipgloss (live film, Brixton Academy 2011)
Lipgloss at Pulpwiki
“She’s a haunted house / And her windows are broken / And the sad young man’s gone away / Her bathrobe’s torn / And tears smudge her lipstick / And the neighbors just whisper all day” – Scott Walker ‘Big Louise’
“We do not pray for immortality, but only not to see our acts and all things stripped suddenly of all their meaning; for then it is the utter emptiness of everything reveals itself.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Women have been swindled for centuries into substituting adornment for love, fashion (as it were) for passion. All the cosmetics names seemed obscenely obvious to me in their promises of sexual bliss. They were all firming or uplifting or invigorating. They made you tingle. Or glow. Or feel young. They were prepared with hormones or placentas or royal jelly. All the juice and joy missing in the lives of these women were to be supplied by the contents of jars and bottles. No wonder they would spend twenty dollars for an ounce of face makeup or thirty for a half-ounce of hormone cream. What price bliss? What price sexual ecstasy?” – Erica Jong
“Men get laid, but women get screwed.” – Quentin Crisp
It’s to the credit of 1993 Pulp that a throwaway rehash of the previous year’s singles can turn out to be a near-masterpiece. Lipgloss is the result of a simple formula – “Razzmatazz x Babies = hits” – but it would be a mistake to describe it as cynical or contrived. Instead it’s just a case of “practice makes perfect.”
Why does Lipgloss work where Razzmatazz only sort-of worked then? Well, a lot of it is to do with tone. While Razzmatazz has a slight mis-match between the tragic story and the attempt to sound big, Lipgloss takes the sadness and uses it to push further. The result is a rush – an odd feeling of euphoric despair generated by facing up to your worst fears and letting yourself imagine they’re all true. Part of what makes the song work emotionally more is the complete lack of spite. That malicious empathy has gone entirely – now if anything we are the girl’s inner voice, captured at the moment she realises everything she’s known before no longer counts, and that life is out of her control, at the whims of the uncaring gods.
The title of the song came from the story of an anorexic girl who only ate lipgloss*, but this is something of a red herring as eating disorders are only referred to in a throwaway line. In general, ‘lipgloss’ here refers to an intangible magnetic quality which empowers and defines her – a close relative to ‘it’, ‘mojo’ or even ‘X-factor’. It was the main thread of her life, but she didn’t realise until it vanished. Has her lover suddenly shaken off the hold of some sort of falsely constructed feminine mystique and failed to connect with the real woman beneath? Had the relationship dulled the edges of her personality so much that a shift of perspective has revealed her to be little more than an echo? Not truthfully, not entirely, I’d like to say, but let’s remember that this is all just her worst fear. So stuck in the moment are we that all of this is little more than guesswork, but it’s all vivid enough that no back story is required.
In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the bizarro-world version of Pulp produced by Stephen Street, and that’s where the story of Lipgloss started too. This demo version is locked (perhaps forever) in the Island vaults, a shame in a sense as it would be interesting to hear a real hit with a straightforward production style, especially as Lipgloss has a fairly standard structure and is built around a guitar-lick hook, so perhaps it would’ve been best-sided to a meat & potatoes treatment. Or perhaps not – the atmosphere generated by Candida and Ed Buller is one of the main factors driving the song in its surge forward.
Candida has a fairly minor role to play here, but an essential one. The central descending keyboard figure is hard to unhear once you’ve tuned into it* – a nursery-rhyme series of notes, it underlies everything without ever drawing attention to itself. Then there’s the other synth-line which sounds like metallic lapping water – a Stereolab song of a few years later has the same sound isolated for a few bars, but here it intermingles with the rhythm of the song as naturally as breathing in and out.
Throughout the song simply adds up to more than its component parts. The guitar sounds minimal, almost sampled, the chorus is a bit lacklustre, but there’s a continuous upward movement that holds it all together. Part of what finally sells it to me is the section starting at 2.10, where the tension of the buildup suddenly dissipates and we’re left with that heavenly, haunted synth-bed that embodies this era, and perhaps the band as a whole.
Lipgloss was the first single released on Island, and the first to have a professionally shot video after years of improvised scenes with unpaid extras. While on tour in Liverpool Jarvis had seen an “inflatable environment” called ‘Eggopolis‘ – a gigantic art project that was touring the UK. It was ideal for filming a music video, visually stunning in a unique way, but it took such a long time to find a studio to house the thing, inflate it and have it professionally lit that there was only time to film two run-throughs and ten minutes with Julie Jones in her boudoir holding up signs. Then Jarvis decided to edit the thing in Sakia’s unheated loft in November and consequently get the flu.
I can understand, then, why he’s not keen on it, but it still works, largely because of the visual brilliance of the Eggopolis itself. It’s good to see Julie Jones here too – she’s a largely unheralded figure in this story so far, but was the group’s unofficial stylist through these years, and has been mysteriously referred to as the “source of much inspiration” by Jarvis on a couple of occasions – once even saying that she was responsible for the story behind Acrylic Afternoons. Her role in the video is a little odd (she’s most certainly not the girl who’s “lost her lipgloss” and I’m not sure if she’s even supposed to be) but as a character she makes more of an impact than any other bit-part performer in a Pulp video. As well she should.
*There’s a soundcheck floating around where Candida practices her part again and again. I remember at first being unable to place it, then as soon as I had it suddenly altered the entire way I heard the song, probably to its detriment. So I won’t link it here.
**Did The Designers Republic not know the difference between lipgloss and lipstick or did they just think it looked better?