“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin
“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
― Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
David’s Last Summer wasn’t the only part of His ‘n’ Hers with a long gestation period. We’re approaching the last few songs from the album and the supposed central theme – the title in fact – has yet to appear. Well, here it is, only it’s not quite right, yet.
Were it not for the existence of song #132, I may well be ready to marvel at Frightened as a lost classic. Without context and comparison lots of things sound great, I suppose. Oh, the idea is there, sure enough, and it works fairly well as a song, and plenty of other groups would have been happy with that. That’s what Frightened sounds like, in fact, a parallel dimension Pulp who respected their own ideas a bit too much to know when it was time to bin them, a Pulp who were happy to settle with “That’ll do.”
It’s a sound enough idea – “one man’s fear of domestic interiors set to music” – but it’s an ambivalent kind of fear, one which attracts as much as it repels, a sick addiction to something that’s bad for you, like the woman in You’re A Nightmare. As there, the problem is the human element, how to turn this concept into a living thing with real people and real feelings. Here the revulsion with chintzey middle-class life is paired with the fear of loss of self-control to love and desire, and while it’s almost there it ultimately doesn’t fit – on the one hand we have this romantic struggling with unexpected feelings and on the other we have Habitat-phobia, with no attempt made to connect the dots or flesh out the characters, and it just seems too forced and melodramatic. Lines like “The figurines have taken over the house / And it’s a hell of a mess / And the pictures won’t hang straight anymore” just sound nervous and prissy – why should we care about this bric-a-brac exactly? Of course, there is something there, it was just that a little more digging was needed.
The intention of the lyric is opaque, then, and stuck with how to present it, Jarvis goes for a sneery punk vocal style, a Yorkshire Mark E Smith, but without his wit or his air of danger this just comes off as a bit juvenile. These kitsch items in and of themselves are not earth-shatteringly terrible, and simple derision isn’t going to sell the concept. The backing too is unsure where to tread, though at times it’s actually very good, starting from the Philip-Glass style opening, through the ghostly organ and Steve’s sarcastic bully of a bassline, past the let-down of a chorus, and finally into a pretty magnificent rhubarb & custard guitar solo which speeds up into an excellent Cardiacs-style breakdown / disintegration.
There’s plenty of good stuff to be found in ‘Frightened’, but ultimately it was still necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The song overall is finished, but the chorus simply doesn’t work, the concept as a whole still seems badly stitched together, and while some parts really do work, all they do is highlight the parts that don’t. So, back to the drawing board then. The demo was shelved, eventually being dusted off for the 2006 deluxe edition bonus CD, to assume its rightful place as a mildly-interesting enjoyable-enough curiosity which had to make way for…