Tag Archives: infidelity

#134 – Street Lites

3 Aug

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Street Lites (b-side to ‘Do You Remember The First Time’, 1994)
Street Lites at Pulpwiki

Ten years ago, when I took this photo, I was a lodger in a small town outside Prague. Every evening I would take the subway to my “local” bar in a central suburb, and return at around 4am via two night trams and one night bus, which deposited me on a motorway sliproad a mile away from home. That’s how every day ended – walking for half an hour along a deathly quiet three-lane highway with nothing to see except road and grass verge.

If that sounds awful, then let me stress that it wasn’t – in fact it was my favourite part of the day. Something about the simplicity of the artificial geography and the lack of distractions allowed me to think clearly, while the fresh air sobered me up. Occasionally a lorry would approach, pass and retreat into the darkness – a moment of great drama in the stillness of the night. On the few occasions I was able to share this journey with someone, the time became magic, incandescent, unforgettable.

These are the moments Street Lites evokes for me – that unnatural stillness you can only find in a modern European city at night. Always a group with a feel for place and time, Pulp have already taken us on night-time adventures through terrifying northern cities populated by stalkers and thugs, sexualised urban landscapes, furtive, perverse suburbia and repulsive, blighted tower blocks. This is different, though – we’ve left The North behind, or any locality for that matter. These places are like that – lacking in character, you could call it, or a blank canvas for your own feelings. This could be the bedsit London of Different Class, or the alienated nowhere of This Is Hardcore, we just don’t know.

It’s odd how many threads are picked up here, while we enter sonically new territory. Is this just a shiny chrome mirror held up to Blue Glow, with all the grime and fear leeched out, cocaine-fuelled mania taking the place of paranoid hallucinations? The organ intro sounds like Silence, of all things, and structurally we’re in the same territory as Someone Like The Moon – a similarly-constructed song, but with a much more satisfying realisation. What makes this song different is the newly confident narrator, and an adult relationship on equal terms – Jarvis has stopped complaining about new boyfriends and started an affair with somebody else’s wife. It’s not all chocolate boxes and roses, of course – they know they are doing something wrong, something they can’t defend, but that knowledge somehow just makes it harder for them to control themselves.

There’s a desperate sexual itch here, then, but one that’s strung-out and cold too. The group seem to have recorded and mixed the track in the absence of Ed Buller, and the sound is consequently much more minimalist, with Russell’s violin given much more space to roam. The first verse consists only of a few tracks – organ, vocal and plucked refrain, but even when the full band join in at the chorus everything sound separated and clear. Nick’s drums – an odd little stuttering jazz fill, looped – continue through to the second verse, lending the track an odd underlying skiffle/trip-hop hybrid rhythm. Otherwise there’s little in the way of variation, more the building of a groove, with Steve’s bassline working as the pulsing heartbeat of the sleeping city. It’s a contradictory sound – produced from a haphazard collection of parts, while the entirety sounds uniformly cold and smooth, yet warm and sensual.

Jarvis’s vocals are a vital factor here, of course. In a sense the whole track sounds like a come-on to a woman, but underneath it’s a bit more complex. The vocal is several takes on top of each-other – some spoken, some sung, one just a series of grunts and groans, each taking turns to come to the foreground – but while these sound different, they have a unity of purpose. There is little in the way of confusion or mess here.

My favourite part of the track comes at three minutes in – one of those perspective-shaking breakdowns that seem to represent the group at their best, moments of clarity through distortion – “We’ve got to go on meeting like this…” Even without it, though, Street Lites would be a success, albeit a secret one. A near-six-minute semi-epic, it didn’t fit with the narrative of His ‘n’ Hers at all. It’s just one of those things that has to stand alone.

#123 – You’re Not Blind

11 Jan

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You’re Not Blind (Demo, 1993)
You’re Not Blind at Pulpwiki

“I don’t like to imprint my sound on what a band does. I always think of it as their recording, not mine. That’s the most important thing…. I like to get everyone playing together – even though we might be interested in concentrating on getting a good drum sound or whatever – in order to capture the nuances of a performance.”Stephen Street

Their differences with Fire were settled, contracts were drawn up, advances were paid, and all that was left was for Pulp to produce their first properly-funded album. With the financial weight of Island Records behind them and the pressure of expectations, the temptation to become pernickety perfectionists was a very real danger, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Pulp felt the need to go shopping around for a producer. Britpop was now looming in the near-distance and Stephen Street was the man to watch – with his work on Parklife and The Great Escape he would come to define the sound of the mid 90s. That was still a couple of years away, though, and for now he was still just a former Smiths engineer who was working with a few minor-league indie groups, albeit one with a certain amount of buzz.

“He came up to the rehearsal room which was above my mother’s pottery shop in Catcliffe, so we were all crowded into this tiny space. One of the cleanest men you’ll ever see – he could go down into a coal mine in a white suit and come out looking sparkling. Really nice bloke. It was good ‘cos he came to the rehearsal and he listened.” – Nick Banks in ‘Truth & Beauty’

Three tracks were recorded at their session at Axis Studio in Sheffield – Le Roi Des Fourrnis (a cover version, so hardly a fair representation), a demo version of Lipgloss (which remains unreleased) and You’re Not Blind; the only version of the song ever recorded, and one which was immediately shelved and forgotten about until the expanded version of the album was released in 2006. It’s a unique opportunity, then, to see what a different handling of Pulp could sound like.

A mid-tempo pop song (in Jarvis’s words “another attempt to rewrite Babies”), You’re Not Blind features a very promising verse with an exquisite guitar motif* which sounds excitingly like it’s going somewhere but then fizzles out into a semi-written sketch of a chorus. The lyrics also seem to lack sufficient fleshing-out; we’ve got the usual infidelity and girlfriend-stealing with a dash of the venom later heard in I Spy, only without any convincing narrative reasons behind them – leading to the impression of a “supremely nasty sentiment” described by Jarvis in the sleeve notes. He’s about to steal or has already stolen your girlfriend, and he wants to rub it in, but without detail it all seems purposelessly cruel.

The production is probably the only real thing of note here. In contrast to Buller’s vast magical nebula of sound, it’s possible to pick out every instrument, even on a casual listen. Candida’s keyboard is strikingly different, sounding for once like an instrument rather than an all-enveloping atmosphere. If that sounds good to you, then I’m sorry to say it’s a bit too normal for my taste, and Jarvis seems to have agreed.

“I thought he was good, I would have given him as my choice to go on and do the His ‘n’ Hers stuff… But I don’t think Jarvis liked his producing ‘cos he thought he was too nice, everything was too nice, all too clean, you could kind of hear everything.”
– Nick Banks in ‘Truth & Beauty

A failure, then? Well, not really. It’s hardly fair to judge something that was apparently only semi-worked out at the time, the verse is fine, and with a decent chorus you can just about picture it becoming something pretty special. After all, there’s nothing really wrong with it – it’s just that with so many superb songs in the air, there were bound to be a few casualties.

*Nobody seems to be sure of the identity of the guitarist here, but something about it sounds like it could possibly have been a very early bit of Mark Webber.

#117 – 59 Lyndhurst Grove

30 Nov

59 Lyndhurst Grove

59 Lyndhurst Grove (b-side to Razzmatazz, 1993)
59 Lyndhurst Grove (12th August 1993 – No Stilettos (TV))
59 Lyndhurst Grove at Pulpwiki

“I played these songs to Susan the other day – she just laughed and said I was being spiteful because she wouldn’t sleep with me when we first met. She also said to tell you that she’s perfectly happy where she is at the moment, thank you very much.” – original sleeve notes

If there’s one thing I miss about living in the UK it’s the house parties. It wasn’t that I went to many, mind, but there were some at least. Out here I’ve never even seen my friends’ flats, let alone drunk punch in them. The best part, perhaps, was the transformation of the place – a dull suburban semi would be remembered as a tiny club full of friends and acquaintances, a secret building hiding in plain sight. It made me wonder what else was going on behind all those other doors, which is very Pulp, isn’t it?

Sometime in the early 90s Jarvis was invited to a house party in Peckham, South London . Turning up at the invitation of the lady of the house he was surprised to find that instead of the expected fun times the house was full of childen and the other occupants were engaged in “right-on” political discussions. At a guess, Jarvis was not sober enough for any of this, and ended up being thrown out an architect, presumably the man of the house. As much as I’m inclined to take his side in this, I can’t help but picture the scene being something like Bernard’s performance at the house party in Black Books, although presumably he didn’t use their laundry basket as a toilet.

Burned by his experience, Jarvis quickly wrote ’59 Lyndhurst Grove’, the concluding part of the ‘Inside Susan’ trilogy, and easily one of the most bitter and sarcastic things the group have ever put out. On first listen it’s just a sweet low-key ballad, the sort of thing not heard since the days of ‘It’ a decade earlier, gentle lyrics about a suburban lifestyle with the obligatory shot of sexual intrigue at the end. Candida’s synths burble away gently, Steve’s bass softly thrums. The vocal is gentle, understanding, lacking in any malicious undertone.

Listen a bit closer, however, and the deadpan humour starts to become clear. Susan – if this is still really Susan – is living a life full of the comforts of modern living, but each and every one of them is hollow and insubstantial. Her husband can support her with all these things, the house, stripped floorboards, his ex-wife’s painting still on the wall, but clearly none of it is really making her happy. There’s even a callback to the more carefree party mentioned in ‘Inside Susan’ – the stairs this time not being a place for kicking overeager German boys, but for cleaning up after guests.

This is all just Jarvis’s idea, of course, and he doesn’t even really pretend it’s much else. “Money can’t buy me love” is one of the oldest lyrical gambits in the book, but in the difficult real world money can buy a comfortable, easy life, and perhaps that’s a higher priority than love. Either way, it’s just his opinion, and it’s all a lead up to the come-on at the end, and the last-minute betrayal “Hearing old women rolling trolleys down the road /
Back to Lyndhurst Grove” – the repulsion at suburban life matched equally with an attraction to its strangeness and familiarity. If there’s something to take away from the song then for me it’s that feeling – the storyline itself being done better elsewhere.

They named the song after the house in question, which seems a little rude. After the single was released Jarvis sent a copy to the address, which seems even ruder, but apparently received no reply from the woman. Later a Japanese fan found the house, and the woman, and asked her if she was Susan. Her reply is, unfortunately, unavailable. They seem to have moved out soon after (I hope this was unrelated) and now there are new occupants, who while initially confused by the occasional visitor taking a photo, now apparently enjoy owning a very minor piece of musical history.