Tag Archives: I don’t like your new boyfriend

#129 – Do You Remember The First Time?

25 Apr

DYRTFT

Do You Remember The First Time? (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
Do You Remember The First Time? (music video)
Promotional interview for DYRTFT, 1994
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Butt Naked, 1994)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Jools Holland 1994)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Reading 1994)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, 1994)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Brixton Academy, 1995)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Tokyo, 1996)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Munich 1996)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Lorely 1998)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Hootenanny 2002)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Glastonbury 2011)
Do You Remember The First Time? (live film, Reading 2011)
Do You Remember The First Time? (cover by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, 2014)
Do You Remember The First Time? at Pulpwiki

If you look at the depictions of teenagers on television today, they’re selfish, avaricious, out for themselves. They’re also confident, sexy and cool and they’re really at home with sex and drugs. If you look at the portrayal of children on TV in the 70s, in something like Children of the Stones or The Changes they’re terrified of the world, they’re uncomfortable, alienated and alone, and I think that’s much truer to what it’s really like to be a teenager than what you see in Skins.”Stewart Lee on Screenwipe

“All things have their place. First adolescent zip fumblings; first secret drug voyages; the first time you realise that after the first time, the whole process may never be as good again.”
– Single of the Week in the NME.

“It’s a lot like playing the violin / You cannot start off and be Yehudi Menuhin”Sparks, ‘Amateur Hour’

“Well do you? And why did you choose them? Was it the drink or the time of year or the position of the planets? Or was it just their hair?” – Original sleeve notes

Pulp are chiefly remembered in the wider world for a single momentarily ubiquitous hit. This, obviously, isn’t it, but it might well have a greater claim to be their theme tune all the same. When the group reformed for a reunion tour in 2011 it was Do You Remember The First Time – not Common People, Babies or Disco 2000 – that formed the theme of the teaser campaign, and which opened the set every night. This wasn’t so much a re-writing of history as an acknowledgement that the passage of time does odd things to a band’s catalogue, and that what seemed to be a song written in opposition to nostalgia could, if contextualized and given enough distance, become evocative enough to prove itself completely wrong, and therefore completely right, or vice-versa.

To open up to a wider audience with a song about nostalgia and disappointment may be an odd move, but reforming for a tour where you only play old material and using it as your introduction seems on paper nothing short of ridiculously bloody-minded. Pulp, of course, were never interested in doing things the usual way, and quite often they found that the silver lining of optimism and empathy is always clearer the more you focus on the cloud of shared disappointment. That’s universality for you, and that’s what DYRTFT is all about.

Ok, all a bit obvious now perhaps, but it certainly wasn’t in 1994, when Pulp were still relatively untested newcomers to the top 40. When a group make the leap from being a cult act to public property, it’s important to sell the concept to a much wider audience. This isn’t the same thing as “selling out” – in some ways it’s quite the reverse. Instead of selling off your fans to the highest bidder you’re opening up to everyone, going from exclusivity to inclusivity. You have to give people a glimpse of a gang they want to join, a story and a mythology to get them hooked. Every successful group have to make this leap at some point, that’s why Jarvis was always so dismissive of the early 90’s mantra of “we make music for ourselves and if anyone else likes it then its a bonus”.

It’s a hard ask, but no revolution was required – Pulp had been building up to this for a while, and there are no drastically new themes present. A dash of crap nostalgia, a helping of “I don’t like your new boyfriend’, DYRTFT is part of a clear lineage through Razzmatazz and Lipgloss, but something has clicked now and we suddenly have a much more mature take – a simpler picture in some ways, but one with a much wider perspective, near-universally relatable.

The cultural significance attached to the losing of virginity in the west is such that disappointment is inevitable. Generally speaking, nobody is expected to be good at something the first time they do it, but for some reason this particular task gets tied in to perceptions of maturity and self-esteem, and the embarrassment felt after the standard poor first-time performance is expressible only through irony and jokes. Talking honestly about this as a shared experience rather than a personal shortcoming seems to cut against English cultural norms, and surely puts paid to the odd concept of Pulp as dealers in kitsch or camp. The first time might be the worst time, sure, but it’s all uphill from there – the rest of life and love in all its joy or sadness is a great adventure to be had, or to remember for that matter.

This is, then, the most inclusive vision of the group so far, and musically it’s a larger, more generous version of what we’ve already been through – a brighter, higher resolution version of the picture. We’ve heard Pulp flirt with sounding like other 90s indie groups and it’s never tonally felt quite right because limbs had to be cut off to fit into those different shapes, and limbs are the most interesting parts, after all. For Do You Remember The First Time, Pulp are instead given a space to spread out – a big, confident sound with big confident guitars, though Pulp lack the kind of guitar hero generally responsible for such things. The model for this regimented expansiveness seems to be Suede in their glam rock anthem mode – an easy enough connection for Ed Buller, I suppose. It’s his track, in a sense, and credit is due for making it work. That swooping synth atmosphere underlying everything seemed to be the group’s sound bed for the His ‘n’ Hers tour and a radio documentary. Consequently it sounds to me like The Pulp Noise, so whatever his mis-steps elsewhere Buller can definitively be said to have made his mark on the band’s sound – though all this would be swept away by 1995, of course.

Slotting into the background more are Nick and Steve – this sort of song doesn’t need anything fancy from the rhythm section besides maintaining a steady rhythm and allowing the song to progress through the series of pulls back and releases, and they play their part well without standing out. Jarvis, on the other hand, is ridiculously on-form, by turns spitting out and whispering lines – no showboating or melodrama, just perfectly judged, and perhaps his first real star vocal performance. Something has changed, just a little, but enough to indicate that the imperial phase is almost upon us.

By 1994, the birth pangs of Britpop were well underway, as can be evidenced by a quick glance at the video for DYRTFT. It features a host of characters dressed in vaguely 70s, Pulp-ish clothes all hanging around having clumsy sexual encounters in alleyways and dingy flats while Jarvis stands nearby serenading them. Pay close attention and you might notice two future members of Menswe@r (at this point involved in a Select-constructed Camden Mod revival scene) hanging out in these scenes – apparently Chris Gentry actually lost his virginity on the video shoot. The rushing euphoria of the track is expressed by the movement of a camera on a semi-circular overhead track, constantly changing scenes by sweeping through the ground or the walls. It’s a neat idea, and it has to be said a brilliant piece of work, but the concept is taken so far as to make the viewer slightly sea-sick. Fortunately the song was also used as the basis for a short film, which we’ll be talking about in more detail next time.

The next Pulp single we’ll get to is Common People. It might seem still to be miles off, but it really isn’t. From this point onwards Pulp are a mainstream pop band, part of the now, public property, and all for the best. DYRTFT marks the start of all of this, and even if it lacks for innovation, it’s surely one of the best things they ever recorded.

Note from author: Sorry about the gap in these entries, several things have come up all at once, and I’ve found myself very busy. Entries should now continue as before – it would be a shame to stop now after all.

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#126 – Have You Seen Her Lately?

15 Feb

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Have You Seen Her Lately? (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
Have You Seen Her Lately? (live film, Glastonbury 1994)
Have You Seen Her Lately? (live film)
Have You Seen Her Lately? (live film, Paris 2012)
Have You Seen Her Lately? at Pulpwiki

“First you let him in your bed
Now he’s moved inside your head
And he directs all the dreams you are dreaming”

If Seconds was an ultimately optimistic portrayal of the messy compromises life throws your way, then Have You Seen Her Lately? is perhaps its evil twin. Instead of empathy we have sympathetic despair and a hopeless wailing and gnashing of teeth towards a lost cause. Instead of acceptance of the drama life throws at us we have the inevitability of death, and the death of dreams, of hope.

Once again Jarvis’s ex is in the arms of another man, but this time he’s taking it much worse. From his perspective (and as the title reminds us, he has corroboration) the new boyfriend is a bad move all round. He’s insecure (“Do you think he’ll fall apart?”), immature (“It’s time to teach him how to walk”), a burden (“a piece of luggage that you should throw away”) and somehow hugely dangerous (“He’s already made such a mess of your life”). Her relationship with him is akin to the joining of a suicide cult – she’s already been brainwashed and this is her last chance to get out before it’s too late.

If you’re thinking this all sounds a bit extreme then that’s fair enough. This song is decidedly not coming from a rational or logical place – it’s a desperate last-grasp for redemption, and Jarvis sounds more like a lonesome ghost returning to whisper dire warnings in his old lover’s ear than a human giving advice. That’s the way they play it too; singer, band and producer conspire to turn this plea into one of the oddest, but most consistent pop songs around.

From that first out of tune organ sound onward, everything about ‘Have You Seen Her Lately?’ sounds sickly. In Emile Zola’s novel La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret a young priest drives himself into a life-threatening fever through excessive worship of the Virgin Mary, and this illness has the same sort of feel. It’s utterly religious and oddly asexual – the end-point of the group’s romantic tendency when all goals and desires are rendered useless. It’s another Ed Buller symphony, but this time it’s all a little too overwhelming. The verses are normal enough, I suppose, but the chorus is essentially one long, resigned wail, and toward the close of the track the song takes you back to the haunted music room of ‘Blue Girls’ – a wistful, deeply sad anti-nostalgia, something we might call ‘hauntology’ if it were made today.

I’m impressed by ‘Have You Seen Her Lately?’ – it’s hard not to be by such a powerful piece of music – but I’m still not sure if I actually enjoy it. With earlier ballads what was required was a suspension of disbelief, but here it’s more like a willingness to go with the core idea, and I don’t know if I can do that. Ultimately I don’t trust the narrative of this relationship – the singer is too involved to present a clear picture, and there’s a lingering suspicion that he has his own selfish, desperate romantic instincts underlying his argument. Is the girl too weak, too pathetic to realise her situation, if it’s really so bad? If so, why does he want to win her back so badly? Does she not have her own free will, to join with or even follow whoever she chooses? There’s something that doesn’t quite sit right, and I just can’t shake it. This may all be deliberate, it may be that I’m missing something, but all the same it stops me diving in and going with the flow, and that’s a shame.

#114 – Pink Glove

9 Nov

Julie Jones in Lipgloss Promo

Pink Glove (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
Pink Glove (John Peel Session, 1993)
Pink Glove (Live film, No Stillettos, 1993)
Pink Glove (Live film, Astoria Theatre, London, 1994)
Pink Glove (Live film, Reading 1994)
Pink Glove (Live film, Glastonbury 1995)
Pink Glove (Live film, La Bikini, Toulouse, 2011)
Pink Glove (Live film, Dour, Belgium, 2011)
Pink Glove at Pulpwiki

“This is a song about one of those situations where you have to wear something to keep someone else happy… it’s a trade-off between what you want for yourself and what you’re prepared to do to keep them happy and why they liked you in ine first place. I’ve never been in a situation like that, I just write about them” – Jarvis Cocker in Q Magazine, January 1995.

“Suspenders and stockings / Look more sexy than the tights girls are wearing / But even there, weren’t the time wasted? / Time that could be spent completely nude, bare, naked?” – Soft Machine, ‘Pig’ from ‘Soft Machine Volume 2’

We all play roles in life, we’re all actors playing ourselves, and the first thing an actor needs to do is get the clothes right. So, what does “faking it” or “being true to yourself” mean, then? How far does our instinct lead us and how much can it be led for others? Can this role be taken over by guilt, fear or stubbornness – and at what point does it stop being ‘you’ and become something else? These are difficult issues to address, especially when lacking any kind of emotional distance or detachment, but Pink Glove dives headlong into the fray without the slightest concern for preserving dignity or self-respect and surfaces, gasping, enlightened.

Of course, this is all within the now expected framing device of a battle of wills over a lost girlfriend, an ex he’s trying to win back. We saw this in Razzmatazz – again, he thinks she was better off with him. This time, though, there’s genuine concern mixed in with the cruel empathy. She’s gone along with things she doesn’t like for her new boyfriend, once you’ve started to pretend to like something, it’s hard to stop, and now she’s caught in a trap, lured in by inexperience, kept captive by misplaced love.

Beyond this, even, there’s a sense of disgust from the narrator at his rival’s fetishes – if he can appreciate the girl for just being herself, why does this man need to dress her up in these ridiculous costumes to get off? Doesn’t she deserve better than that? But no, of course, she doesn’t agree.

Pink Glove is an act of persuasion – “…every now and then in the evening…” – despair – “…if you touch him again then I’m going…” – loyalty – ” you got it right first time” and disappointment – “should you stop being you?” It’s a frustrated, near-distraught rant, full to the brim with self-pity and other-pity. This feeling is amplified by Jarvis’s vocal performance, woring as a fair approximation of a man having a breakdown, veering between told-you-so triumph and utter desperation. At times it even sounds like he’s crying.

Into this fray comes Ed Buller, ramping up the alienation with a Bowie-esque vocal echo and spooning on his usual layers of atmospherics on top of Candida’s keyboards*. The effect is stronger the more you focus on it – dream-pop intermingling with horror soundtrack ambient, with occasional power chords bursting through the murk, the galloping rhythm of an immense impending something driving it forward. There’s something vaguely hymnal about it, and something odd, sickly and nauseous too.

It sounds astonishing, doesn’t it – and indeed, Pink Glove has done well in all manner of popularity polls – but for some reason I’ve always found the song hard to love. It’s something about the lack of a climax, the smoothed-out, soporific production. I can appreciate it, especially when reduced to its component parts, but somehow it just feels distant. it doesn’t move me, and it should.

Perhaps Ed Buller is to blame again – a shame as by all counts he’s done a fantastic job here, and yet it’s all too much. To demonstrate this, have a listen to the John Peel session version to pull off the (beautiful) polyester veneer and reveal the surprisingly tight post-punk song beneath. There’s almost nothing in the way of production here to hide behind, and given the chance the song comes alive. Nick’s sparse, perfect drumming propels the thing along while Russell juts in with his wah-wah guitar, and Jarvis controls himself a bit more (which sounds like a loss, but it’s not.) Much as with Wishful Thinking a decade earlier, in producing something perfect-sounding, something vital was lost, and all in the name of creating a uniform feel across the LP. It’s a shame.

*In order to replicate this in a live setting, the group had to rope in Mark Webber – and since Pink Glove was something of a live staple it meant that he was suddenly needed on stage a lot more.

#107 – The Boss

14 Sep

The Boss

The Boss (Island Demo, 7 May 1992)
The Boss (Live at ULU, London, 23rd October 1992)
The Boss (Instrumental cover version by MrSalmon92)
The Boss at Pulpwiki

“This one’s about wondering about someone who’s going out with your ex-girlfriend or your ex-boyfriend. it’s kind of soul-destroying.” – Live introduction

In 1991-1992 Pulp seem to have been on a concerted mission to write pop anthems with as wide an appeal and as intense a feel as possible. The strike rate was very high – from the first six or seven new songs introduced, Babies and O.U. are somewhere near perfect, and She’s A Lady and Razzmatazz are great too, only suffering from comparison. Then there were the slight missteps – first Live On, and now The Boss.

These two songs have a great deal in common – both were written in the aftermath of a hit (Countdown and Babies respectively) in an attempt to replicate their success, both received a rapturous reception when performed live, and both wilted and shriveled up under the harsh glare of studio lights. For Live On this resulted in a tortuous business of records and re-records until it was finally abandoned – with The Boss the group seem to have learned something, or at least have been too busy trying to save one lost classic to have had time for a second.

Both songs raise the same question, then; could it be perhaps that there is a certain magic to the muffled, thick sound produced by a PA system, the drive produced by a live audience, the mystery and possibilities of the song heightened and amplified, and that some songs just need these things in order to survive? Or is it just that the poor quality recording and live environment hide the song’s flaws? Truthfully, it’s impossibly to make a call on this, but it at least means that there’s always going to be good stuff out there for those who are willing to dig through bootlegs. The live version, then, is great, but the recorded version sucks, and life generally goes on as normal.

The Boss is a song of its own, though, not exactly like anything before or since, but containing hints of several other songs from the period – like somebody’s put Don’t You Want Me Anymore, Babies, Pencil Skirt and Pink Glove in a blender and fired the resultant mush out of a fireman’s hose. It’s a jaunty, fast paced, proto-britpop song, named ‘The Boss’ as it reminded the group of Bruce Springsteen. That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, but you sort of can hear the same kind of impassioned, pulsating, driving rhythm that the E-street band sometimes pumped out – the same force that The War Against Drugs have been successfully channeling the last few years.

The rest of the track fights against the name, though – the synths sound like they are straight out of an 80s gameshow theme tune, though the sample was lifted from Jarvis’s trusty BBC Radiophonics Workshop LP, and the power chords sound more like Def Leppard than Bruce. It’s not bad as such, but it’s a little unadventurous compared to other songs from the same time.

Lyrically we’re in slightly overfamiliar territory too. It’s another song about your ex’s new lover, another case of the narrator catching a train out of town – sound concepts, on the whole, but better used elsewhere before and after.

The Boss was one of six songs recorded for an Island demo in 1992. One of the tracks (which we’ll come to very soon) was re-dubbed and released, three were re-recorded later, and the remaining two only saw the light of day with the release of the “Deluxe” version of His ‘n’ Hers in 2006. The group seem to have had very little in the way of affection for the session. In Truth & Beauty Nick Banks said;

“We were just experimenting around that thing of writing ‘up’ songs, songs that people could get into, rather than slow ballads. Full-on, you know, really fast and aggressive. I listened to it a few months ago, dug some tapes out – for fuck’s sake! Couldn’t stand it.”

Though The Boss is regarded as something of a lost classic, i can’t help but sympathize with Nick here. Enough with the anthems, Pulp, let’s hear something different.