Tag Archives: depression

#56 – Silence

29 Sep

Silence at pulpwiki

“I banned it from going on the Fire compilation, because it’s terrible – I couldn’t live with it being out.”

When writing something like this blog, there’s always a risk that you’ll annoy someone by criticizing one of their favourites. “Silence” is, of course, an exception to this rule. The closest I can find to a defense of it is that it has “a good concept” “hilarious lyrics” or is “likeable just for sheer comedy value.” But despite near-blanket condemnation from every quarter it’s still the only track from Sudan Gerri ever given an official release – an inclusion on the ‘Master Of The Universe’ single in 1987. This choice, when there were many other fairly decent recordings in the vault, is simply baffling, especially as the repeated listens necessary for writing this blog have done nothing to lessen its terrible impact. After three years who could countenance doing anything with this song besides burying it and making sure nobody found out?

Silence was apparently written at the first New Pulp rehearsal in 1983, after which Peter Boam and David Hinkler left the band. I’d challenge anyone to listen to the track and not admit that this seems like a wise decision. For the first thirty seconds or so it’s possible to persuade yourself that there may be some redeeming features here. A sinister organ motif, mysterious spoken lyrics – it could almost be a slightly worse version of “Take You Back”. But then the caterwauling begins and suddenly any shred of goodwill is forgotten.

There’s so much wrong with what follows over the next five minutes that it’s hard to know where to start. How about the tuneless organ drone which continues unabated throughout the entire piece? Or the abominable lyrics with forced rhymes about silence/reliance and guff about “the scars I’ve left on you” and “how much I loved your eyes”? These crimes are nothing next to Jarvis’s pained vocal theatrics, which are stretched way past the point of self-parody to undiscovered heights of embarrassment. The fact that it takes itself so seriously and has so little to justify this opinion is the poisoned cherry on the fetid cake. Or how about the sheer length of the thing? At five and a half minutes it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘outstaying your welcome’. Oh, and then, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. “WE’LL STILL BE GOOD FRIENDS WON’T WE!?!” Oh Jarvis, what on Earth were you thinking?

If just one of these problems were present, the song would merely be bad. Put together, we have a perfect storm of shit. It’s hard to believe that it’s not a parody, but it really isn’t. How many people had to say ‘yes’ to get this released? It’s hard to even fathom why nobody taped over it while they had the chance. ‘Silence’ isn’t just the worse song in Pulp’s catalogue; it’s up there with some of the worst things I’ve ever heard. Let’s hope it remains buried permanently.

#28 – Sickly Grin

31 Mar

Sickly Grin
Sickly Grin on Pulpwiki

In August 1982, a new Pulp arrived at Input studios in Sheffield to record another four-track demo. This wasn’t just a change in lineup – Dolly and Jamie, two crucial members of the group, had left to go to university. Wayne had given up drumming entirely, and would only contribute guitar and bass parts for two tracks. All that remained from the Rotherham demo was Jarvis and the Hinkler brothers. Over the summer Simon Hinkler, growing tired of splits and musical differences within Artery, had decided to spend his time mentoring Jarvis and helping him put his ideas into some kind of proper shape. Rather than just being the group’s producer, he was now sharing performance and songwriting duties. This, in other words, is the start of the ‘It’ era, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to the most un-‘It’-like “Sickly Grin.”

Sickly Grin is a pop song, and a successful one at that. The cobbled-together hit-and-miss sound of Pulp Mark 2 has been replaced with a band who are able to play together in a way that sounds both deliberate and comfortable. This is hardly surprising considering that Simon had managed to rope in Artery’s drummer, Garry Wilson. Wayne’s drumming had been haphazard to say the least – while he was able to embellish with rolls fairly well, he always struggled to keep time – and simply having the strength of a solid backbeat lifts the song up straight away. The bassline sounds like a Jamie Pinchbeck composition – all low notes and scales – but Simon Hinkler is clearly more competent and lends the track a certain cheekyness on his Fender jazz bass. To top it all off we have a woozy brass section (David on trombone and a guest appearance from Dolly on cornet) joining in for the middle eight. It all sounds very accomplished, though unmistakably just a demo – David in particular doesn’t seem 100% sure about his casiotone parts.

And for the words? Not sure if they matter that much. On the surface Jarvis is simply complaining that the relentless jollity of people he meets is a sham, and that (as Kenickie would later put it) “it’s ok to be sad.” Whether or not there exists a layer of self-awareness or parody under this message is unlear, but at least he’s found a specific thing to complain about rather than railing at the world in general. Writing wilfully miserable lyrics and building a jolly stomper of a song around them wasn’t an original idea – the Kinks had quite a few goes in the late sixties, and later on The Supernaturals tried to build an entire career out of the concept. The trick, it seems, is not to get carried away with playing up the contrast. A casual listener most likely would be too carried away with the jollity to notice how the song is fundamentally a three-minute long complaint that other people smile too much.

A sure-fire pop hit then. The fact that it would spend the following decade in a box somewhere is a really a terrible shame, and we have to thank Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne for digging the demo out for the b-side of a limited edition single in 1992 – though by that time the tape had warped a little, distorting the start of the song. It took me another decade to realise it wasn’t just my bootleg cassette that was broken.

#24-27 – The Rotherham Demo

23 Mar

A street in Rotherham, 1982. Click through for a superb ‘then and now’ photo gallery.

In the catalogue of Pulp mark one, there is little more than a few crumbs of available material in a desert of the unrecorded, unreleased and uncirculated. Given the chance to unearth one tape from this era, I suspect that most would choose the Rotherham demo. The session features four tracks, none of which are available elsewhere, recorded at a time when the band were much more well-rehearsed and professional than before, and produced by a talented, sympathetic producer.
Kaley Studios in Rotherham were a slight improvement on Ken Patten’s living room, but obviously nowhere near the standard of the BBC’s Maida Vale. It seems to have been little more than a bit of derelict office space with sound-proofing and an 8-track mixing desk. The session was produced by David Hinkler’s brother Simon, whose day-job was playing keyboards and guitar in Artery. With the help of the studio engineer he was able to get four decent recordings out of the band in the time allotted.

#24 – Why Live?

From Mark Sturdy’s description, ‘Why Live?’ sounds pretty depressing. David plays mournful spanish guitar while Dolly joins in on the xylophone. Jarvis’s lyrics sound, on face value, to be indulgent teenage whining – “To moan and whine about my life is my perogative / Pessimistic overviews are all I have to give” – but the group were self-aware enough to know how silly po-faced whining could sound, so I suspect there may be more to this song.

#25 – How Could You Leave Me?

Here we find Pulp’s one and only attempt at playing Jazz. A slow-paced, bluesy thing, with one of Jamie’s walking basslines, Wayne’s swing rhythm, Dolly’s blues guitar licks and David playing the ‘vibes’ setting on his keyboard. Jarvis sings a warbly, melancholy vocal, and Simon joins in with a piano solo at the end.

#26 – Teen Angst

Another of the band’s upbeat ska pop songs – an upbeat, bouncy thing about girls and parties, with heavy synth parts from Dolly and David.

#27 – Barefoot in the Park

An upbeat one, apparently “power pop”, heavy on Dolly’s pitch-bended moog. It’s impossible to tell what this song is about from this fragment of lyrics, but you can safely guess that it’s not particularly serious – “Alternative reality/ Reject responsibility/ We’re walking barefoot in the park/ They lock the gates when it gets dark”

This was to be the line-up’s final recording. In the following months Jarvis, Dolly and Jamie took their A-levels, and band activity had to be suspended. When the exams were passed, it was time to go to university, and while Jarvis’s mother was happy enough for him to defer his place, the other two were not so lucky. With interest in the band petering out, the end of this particular Pulp was inevitable.