Tag Archives: dogs are everywhere EP

#73 – Goodnight

26 Jan

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Goodnight (Dogs Are Everywhere EP, 1986)
Goodnight at Pulpwiki

Being an artist is often analogous to being an attention-seeker, and that’s probably why brashness and energy are essential for anyone seeking a career in music. There are very few musicians who would like their work to be described as “soporific” – making your audience switch off and drift away is exactly what they’re trying hard not to do. There is ambient music, of course, but that’s off in a world by itself. For gigging bands, playing in noisy bars in front of drunk people, the temptation must always be to get faster and louder.

“Goodnight” was never played live, of course. How could it be? A concept piece that sounded like falling asleep would be unlikely to go down well with even the more sober late night punters. Instead it’s something of a studio creation, reliant on subtle production tricks and atmospherics, created as a low-key closer to the ‘Dogs Are Everywhere’ EP.

Descriptions of the deserted night-time streets of the city are fairly commonplace by this point. The innovation here is the introduction of the intimate spoken-word narrative. It’s a vital element in the band’s sound for the rest of their career, and for good reason. Limited as he was as a crooner, Jarvis has always had a sonorous, authoritative timbre to his voice when speaking, and the freedom gained from abandoning the structures and conventions of singing allowed him to present much more vividly realized material and play with the natural cadences of his voice rather than be constrained by it.

For the first half of ‘Goodnight’ he guides you gently back home to your house before lulling you to sleep. Instruments start to fade in – first organ and then a beautiful dulcimer backing. Both sound like they are guiding you to heaven. Meanwhile an odd counterpoint chorus pops in and out, like a dark thought niggling at your subconscious – something’s not quite right. The imagery becomes increasingly hazy until “there’s something you’ve forgotten” and we launch into the now-customary nightmare sequence, a panic that if we’re going to heaven then – of course! – that means leaving life behind. This nightmare is thankfully less jarring than usual, the backing continuing to increase in intensity, but not launching into a different tune. Jarvis is singing again, but his vocals have been treated to sound resonant and metallic, and are mixed low enough to avoid the silliness of ‘Master of The Universe’.

‘Goodnight’ is in its own quiet little way a bold leap forward. It would’ve been nice if Jarvis could have gone with the concept, trusted his speaking voice to carry the entire track (instead of launching into an ill-advised whispered version of his croon on the choruses) and not felt the need to add the usual gothic doom to the conclusion, but for a couple of minutes at least we really have something rather special.

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#71 – Dogs Are Everywhere

12 Jan

Dogs Are Everywhere (Single, 1986)
Dogs Are Everywhere (Acoustic) (b-side, 1995)
Dogs Are Everywhere (Live in Bucharest, 2012)
Dogs Are Everywhere at Pulpwiki

“Recent evidence shows that man is a direct descendant of the Dog, rather than the ape, as had been believed. Some are closer to their roots than others.” – original sleevenotes

Pulp had always seemed to be a gang of sorts. First a cheeky collection of schoolboys with wacky names, then an association of budding musos, then a performance art troupe, united by their difference from their peers. Merely ‘not being normal’ is not a lot to have in common, though, and by 1985 the strains were beginning to show. On one side there were Jarvis and Russell, both taking the business of being in a band very seriously indeed, making elaborate schedules and forcing the other members to do lists of chores at rehearsals. On the other side there were Magnus and Manners, the Keith Moon figures of the group – interested in music, sure, but not into being organised and well-behaved. They once infuriated Russell by playing a Sham 69 cover as an encore. Candida, meanwhile, was stuck in the middle, being neither a control freak nor a hooligan.

“I was inspired by one night after playing Chesterfield. Magnus Doyle and Peter Boam were always pissing about and getting stoned. Myself and Russell were puritanical and thought that was terrible. They’d have these mates hanging round, which got on my nerves. That night, they nicked bottles from behind the bar, and we got into loads of trouble. That’s what the song is about – people who display a doggish attitude.” – Jarvis talking about Dogs Are Everywhere in Record Collector

It says something fairly terrible about inter-band relationships when the singer is writing bitter, contemptuous songs about the rhythm section, but perhaps the fact that they played along with the idea says something a little better.

Aged 16, I found Dogs are Everywhere to be a little plodding, but quite wryly insightful, disapproving as I did of both dogs and the majority of my peer group. After being chased home from school by the local farmer’s Doberman on a few occasions, I was frankly terrified of dogs at this point, and extended my fear to a general disapproval of the species. If a human were unquestioningly loyal to one person and threatened anyone else who came near them we’d call this behavior ‘obsequious’ and ‘aggressive’, not ‘loyal’ and ‘faithful’. It didn’t seem fair at all. At school the people with the worst behaviour seemed to be rewarded with attention and approval from the other kids. The connection was a little tenuous but the song seemed to sum up the boorish sexuality and love of willful destruction fairly well. The bit about them whining around your feet seemed a bit odd and misplaced, but you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, haven’t you?

Eighteen years later my understanding of Jarvis’s viewpoint seems to have dissipated entirely. Jumping behind a bar to steal some beers seems less a threat to the order of the civilized world and more like just the usual kind of hijinks young men have always got up to. Behaving pleasantly is a perfectly good way to carry on, of course, but it’s better to tolerate than set yourself up as a haughty paragon of virtue. There’s an inescapable arrogance here which seeps through to the very core; look at all these people with their civilized, uncouth behaviour – sometimes I fear that I’ll start acting like them! Wouldn’t that be awful?! Frankly, it’s hard to conjure up much sympathy, and the attempt at self-deprecation does nothing to address the terrible self-importance.

The worst part of the deal has to be Jarvis’s lounge-singer croon, deployed to devastating effect in all the wrong ways. Never before or since has he sounded so pompous and strained as he does here. The most egregious moment is the winking cabaret of the “sometimes I have to wonder”, but it’s far from being the only moment that sours the perfectly nice instrumentation behind him. This pained confessional tone might have been acceptable if he were singing about something halfway meaningful, but paired with these ridiculous lyrics it’s almost – but painfully not – funny.

I hope I’m not sounding too critical here – this isn’t, by any reasonable standards, a terrible record. The production is perfectly lovely (especially those intimate little slide-scratch sounds), and the tune itself isn’t that bad – but it’s a bit of a slight, plinkety-plonk stab at a pop song which goes on way too long, so nothing particularly valuable was sullied. I’m not sure what Dogs Are “ev-ree-whurr” is even supposed to be – A novelty song? A gothic confessional ballad? An embarrassing rant? – but the result is just a mess and, yes, an embarrassment.

#57 – The Mark of the Devil

6 Oct

The Mark of the Devil (From Dogs Are Everywhere EP)
The Mark of the Devil (Chesterfield 1985 – “The Lost Tape”)
The Mark of the Devil (Performance on “Sheffield Bands 84/85” video, 1985)
The Mark of the Devil at Pulpwiki

“A disease that can strike at any age. How it is caught is a mystery but when one day you look in the mirror and see that mark upon your face… It’s a sickener.” – original sleeve notes

In a rare bit of synchronicity I woke up this morning to find the left side of my face dotted with ugly red spots, presumably a reaction to some recently eaten food combined with the effects of another stultifying Beijing summer. Now that I have a steady job and a wife and baby to support, such things have been relegated to a minor league of worries, but life hasn’t always been like this. A decade and a half ago it would’ve floored me.

In the mid 1980s Pulp were essentially unemployed. Aside from the occasional performance and very occasional recording session their main occupation was killing time waiting to sign on. Contrary to popular opinion this does not equate to a life of carefree luxury. Jarvis was living in a disused factory just off the Wicker where former band member Tim Alcard was employed as a caretaker, a place that sounds fairly bohemian, but which must’ve been in reality rather cold and squalid. Waking up in what amounted to an unfurnished squat, walking to the mirror and seeing an unemployed outsider with little in the way of prospects, whose creative output failed to generate any sort of critical or commercial attention… It can’t have been much fun. Low self-confidence makes a person brittle, and that first glance at your reflection can put paid to your whole day.

‘Mark of the Devil’ takes this feeling and presents it as Gothic horror. It’s a perfect fit – both are serious takes on potentially ridiculous subjects. Accompanying the melodrama we have a suitably frenzied, relentless piece of music. We’ve had ‘Slavic’ before with Srpski Jeb, but here it’s threaded together into what you might (at a stretch) call a groove. The secret is the interplay between the effectively looped drums, bass and violin – the star of the piece being Magnus’s repeated drum fill. Apparently this was created by Jarvis during one of the group’s regular instrument-swapping sessions. Almost as vital is Manners’ polished, curious bass riff, though it suffers from being too low in the final mix. Another casualty is Russell’s violin, sounding much more measured and polite than in live versions.

It wouldn’t really be fair to say that the production is a let-down – the song still sounds good, but doesn’t quite capture the propulsive energy the song had. The steady quickening of the rhythm as we prepare for the lurch back into the chorus should be the pinnacle of the track, but instead it’s merely another fairly good section of a solidly produced whole.

Still, Mark of the Devil is both something new – Slavic post-punk disco – and something wonderful, the stand-out track of the ‘Dogs Are Everywhere’ EP. That the band wanted to make it the lead track is no surprise, but inevitably Fire wanted something more immediate and radio-friendly.