Tag Archives: innocence

#91 – My First Wife (1)

18 May

Dot 1951, Tanganyika

My First Wife (Live, 3rd March 1987 – The Limit, Sheffield)
My First Wife (1) at Pulpwiki

“My First Wife” – that’s quite a good name for a song, isn’t it? Marry a series of hazy reminiscences to a name like this, pair the stark with the indistinct, and you’re setting the listener up for mystery and intrigue. A good idea, then, yes, and that’s presumably why Pulp used the title twice for different songs within a few months in 1987. Both songs were subsequently abandoned, and both only came to light much later when more obscure bootlegs began to circulate. This is the earlier of the two, though (confusingly enough) it’s the most recently unearthed, and beyond a title it has nothing at all in common with its namesake.

The song occupies an odd mid-point between the amateur dramatics of ‘Take You Back’ and the more refined, wistful, ‘David’s Last Summer’. Introduced with the words “nostalgia time”, we open with a cheap Portasound waltz rhythm, sounding like a broken old music box, a souvenir of some more innocent time. It’s presumably just a pre-set rhythm, but the remainder of the song is built over and around it to pleasing effect.

The meat of the piece is Jarvis’s monologue – not a first, but sounding here more like a poem than the meandering, dream-like stories we get elsewhere. A series of nostalgic images of a summers day, it forms more of a picture than a story, vivid yet subsumed by a pleasantly drowsy summer haze. From time to time this is punctuated by curious violin phrases from Russell, then Candida joins in with a slightly out of tune chiming keyboard effect. Oddly enough, it’s this part that shows the most promise, sounding somehow fresh and shocking, though at the same time it also lets the song down by being ill-timed and out of tune.

Towards the end we’re suddenly and unpleasantly thrown down into one of Jarvis’s impassioned screaming sessions. A subtle idea like this can’t really survive being plunged into melodrama, and it’s telling that this is the last time we’ll hear him trying anything along these lines. Rolling timpani, Magnus Doyle style, appears on top of the violin, then suddenly Jarvis reverts to his lounge-singer croon for a few lines. It’s all a bit of a mess – a shame for something that started so well, but not every experiment can make it.

We’ve seen many promising songs disappear into the ether through the eighties, but thankfully this time something was salvaged an put to better use. The descriptions of summer in the first half of the lyric were reused as a basis for ‘David’s Last Summer’ a few years later. If it hadn’t been abandoned in the first place, perhaps its much more successful descendant would never have seen the light – so maybe it was all for the best.

#47 – Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)

28 Jul

Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)
Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) live on ‘The White Room’, 1995
Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) at Pulpwiki

“It was after seeing a picture of my mum, getting out of her wedding car, and realising she was only twenty when she got pregnant and had to get married. She was at art college, but gave it up to have me.”
Jarvis Cocker, Record Collector, 1994

“My mother’s eyes are actually hazel.”
Jarvis Cocker, Mother, Brother, Lover, 2011

Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) is not a song about Jarvis’s mother. It’s just about someone very much like her. It’s not an uncommon story after all; young, artistic girl with hopes and dreams finds herself pregnant at a young age, forced into a loveless marriage, crushed by the rules of society and the law of unintended consequences before she’s even had a chance to find out how the world works. This is no melodrama, it has no need to be when (as Thoreau put it) “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It’s hardly a kitchen sink drama either – there’s no anger or kicking back here, the girl is simply crushed, literally in the last verse.

Little Girl was famously “banned” from being played on the radio by Radio Hallam’s Richard Tandy, and it’s easy to see why. Even on a hundredth listen there’s still something fundamentally shocking about it – and not just the dark croon of “…and one between your legs” either. This focus upon one girl’s ruined life seems voyeuristic, particularly in the way each line features first a statement and then an (often withering) comment. Owen Hatherley puts it like this:

“You wonder, not for the first time, whether the song’s protagonist is an observer of the woman’s plight or a participant; while the song is deeply sympathetic, there’s not much doubt that the man in it is fully implicated.”
Owen Hatherley, ‘Uncommon’, 2011.

Another possibility is that the second voice is the girl talking to herself. The call-response structure of the lyrics could be an internal monologue – the little girl afflicted by self-doubt, judging herself at every turn. Either way, the lyric is wracked with guilt. The father blames her (“look what you’ve done”), the world has no sympathy… who can she blame for this situation? At this point it’s interesting to note that the real little girl gave up her artistic ambitions because she was pregnant with the song’s author. Forget about the paintings, you’ve got to raise Jarvis? It’s enough to give a man a complex.

The creepiness of the track can also be traced to the new creative partnership of Jarvis and Russell. The two distinct voices in the song, whether viewed as ‘victim/abuser’ or ‘observer/interior monologue’ reflect the different approaches of its co-authors.

If I hadn’t been there, Little Girl would have been so soppy as to be unlistenable. My typical tactic was to tell Jarvis “stop being so bloody soft.”
Russell Senior in Truth & Beauty

Russell’s influence extends way beyond the lyrical content of the song. The note of menace in the verses chiefly comes from his queasy, slightly out of tune violin – from this point one of the lead instruments in the band’s new sound.

So far so good, but we’re still missing something here. Pulp’s first act in 1984 was to recruit Magnus Doyle’s flatmate to play bass, and now they added his sister Candida on keyboards. It was her first proper band, and she was playing their songs on their Farfisa, so you’d expect her impact to be minimal. Here, though, it’s anything but. Her breathy backing vocals on the verses and organ on the chorus are both perfectly pitched – oddly as the Farfisa had broken and she had to play a Crumar string synth.

The final person to thank is Simon Hinkler, returning as a producer. Demos and early live versions of Little Girl lack backing vocals and feature instead a clumsy crashing drum-beat on “hole in your heart.” Hinkler wisely ignored Jarvis’s demands for more reverb on the track, so while it’s still atmospheric it doesn’t sound as muddy as anything on “Freaks.”

A tour-de-force, then, and a wise choice of a first single from Fire. The song would, uniquely, remain an occasional part of their set well into the nineties, even while Jarvis was expressing nothing but disdain for the bulk of their eighties work.

#40 – Looking For Life

26 May

Looking For Life
Looking For Life on Pulpwiki

The summer of 1982 was warm and dry. The Falklands war was over, Wednesday had missed out on promotion to the First Division on the final day and ‘Fame’ and ‘Come On Eileen’ were at number one. Jarvis had finished school, deferred his university place, and wasn’t even working as a fishmonger any more. It’s sounds a little like ‘David’s Last Summer’ – going to parties while it’s light outside, the air humming with heat, all that. Dolly and Jamie had gone their different ways, but a new Pulp was coming together, and the possibilities of the future must have seemed endlessly exciting. This is all self-evident from the songs written at this time – Sink or Swim, Joking Aside, but most of all Looking For Life, which captures the sound as well as the feel of those days.

For the previous six months the band’s line-up had included an organ on one side of the stage and a keyboard on the other, a setup which naturally led to tunes led by a swirling whirlitzer of sound topped off with jangly early 80s indie guitar. As the autumn arrived, Jarvis and Simon began their cribbing from Leonard Cohen, and the band’s sound moved on. ‘Looking for Life’ is a hangover from that earlier time. For whatever reason it escaped the rewriting and rearranging, perhaps because it represents the best development of that sound – the organ driven by a propulsive krautrock rhythm – for the first time in Pulp’s existence, a real groove.

It’s not completely successful, of course. The band are almost, but not quite in time for the first minute or so. This is no surprise – the song has a rather everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production, and with so many musicians trying so hard to make something work, one mistake can scupper everything. It was the last song recorded in the session, but destined to be the b-side of their first single, so everyone was very keen to get their part in.
The one thing which had changed about the song was the title. Originally ‘Coming Alive’ it had later been titled ‘Looking for Love’, a name dismissed as “too poofy” by a member of the group. That was a good call – one more song about a young man’s search for love would surely have been too much to take. Instead, the vocals are handily used as a hook for the rhythm, and quite an effective one. Peter Boam also sings lead for a moment, though his lines (“Once I had, I had a vision / Brilliant white walls and lights in each corner they danced” starting from 3.13) were placed so low in the mix that it’s easy to miss them. This is down to Jarvis, who decided that they sounded like “bloody Gene Pitney.”

There’s nothing particularly special going on here, but everyone puts in enough effort to somehow make it work. All the same, they seem to be flagging after a few minutes, and the song finishes largely as a mess. Not a fitting ending for an album it was never meant to be on*, though it woud’ve worked very well if placed earlier on.

*most reissues of the ‘It’ have featured ‘Looking for Life’ as an unmentioned bonus track, taking the album’s running length over the thirty minute mark.

#39 – In Many Ways

19 May

The Marine Girls, who Pulp weren’t.

In Many Ways
In Many Ways (Pulpwiki)

Throughout the seventies and early eighties there was a steady pattern with musical movements. Each would start as an underground scene, score a hit or some press coverage, then blow up into a massive cultural event before finally becoming part of the cultural landscape and fading slowly away in clear sight, with everyone’s interest turning to the next big thing. Then along came 1982, and the pattern was broken – for that year’s new movement was the nameless post-new-wave folky acoustic ‘Cherry Red’ sound, and for some reason the public showed little or no interest in The Marine Girls and The Monochrome Set.

‘In Many Ways’ sounds very much like an offcut from ‘Pillows and Prayers‘, but unfortunately Pulp are no Felt here. A listless, almost comatose ballad, with only the most minimal of choruses, it’s probably the most forgettable thing on the album. Drifting in and out without any drama or resolution, it’s hard to get worked up in either direction about it.

To be fair here, it’s not all bad. The (wilfully opaque) lyrics are about the fleeting nature of love, perhaps relating to a particular relationship. Jarvis seems torn between considering it a short-term fling or something more substantial, finally zeroing in on a sense of dissatisfaction, and acceptance that there’s nothing wrong with short-term fun as long as you don’t take it too seriously, or make the mistake of imagining it’s something more significant. I can’t help but wonder what the girl thought about it. A fairly cynical viewpoint, then, and a more mature one than we’ve seen on the rest of the album, but unfortunately not imbued with any great insight.

Accompanying the melancholy crooning of these thoughts, we have another stripped down, Leonard Cohen style production. The shimmering mediterranean guitar is pitched just right, and the backing vocals are nothing short of lovely. The bongos, to be perfectly honest, just sound limp and dated, but even that doesn’t really sink the song – it’s the lack of progression that really does for it in the end. If you’re going to repeat the same parts over and over again then they’d better be special, and nothing here really is.

‘In Many Ways’ is engaging in parts, but ultimately nothing to write home about. It’s too inoffensive to hate, too inconsequential to love, and it’s no surprise that it ended up hidden away at the end of the album.

#38 – Love Love

12 May

Love Love
Love Love at Pulpwiki

I have a confession; this isn’t my first Pulp-related writing project. In 1997, during that strange lull between ‘Help The Aged’ and ‘This Is Hardcore’ I put out my first Pulp zine, ‘Blue Glow‘. It contained nothing in the way of interviews, news or in-depth analysis, but plenty of novelty features and off-topic wittering.

According to most independent sources, the most interesting article was the ‘Pulp Taste Test‘ – something I’d created by putting eight Pulp tracks on a tape and getting non-fans (people I knew from Sixth Form) to review them ‘blind’. The selection was as wilfully obtuse as possible, every song featuring a wildly different style. I hoped that none of the reviewers would twig that they were listening to the same band. Results were varied. ‘The Will To Power’ didn’t go down very well at all. Only one track met with universal approval; ‘Love Love’.

It was an unusual winner, but it does make some sort of sense. On the album it sounds perversely out-of-place – the final notes of ‘Blue Girls’ fade away and, before you have a chance to readjust yourself, there’s a few thumps of what David Hinkler refered to as “the heaviest bass drum I’ve heard in my life” and we launch into a straight-up jolly trad jazz song. In theory it’s as jarring as it would be if the album cut to Gants Graf by Autechre; in practice it sort of works – sort of – only because ‘Love Love’ itself is so fundamentally un-annoying.

later on, much would be made of the fact that the writer of these songs was, at the time, a virgin, and nowhere is it more obvious than here. Meeting a “special girl” he invites her not for a sordid weekend in a sleazy hotel, but to his mum’s house “for tea.” True, they end up under the table, but it seems unlikely that much is going on beneath the cloth. Later they go to the park to feed the ducks. It’s all so charming and inoffensive that it’s almost impossible to make fun of. Fortunately the innocence is charming, but it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that a slightly older Jarvis may have found it a little embarrassing.

There’s not a lot of information available about the genesis of this odd little curio. It certainly sounds nothing like anything else from the Cocker / Hinkler improvisations that summer (or for that matter, like anything Pulp would ever record again). The trombone and clarinet, sitting squarely at the heart of the piece, were only added at the last minute. David put together his trombone parts on the balcony at Victoria Studios while the band were mixing inside, and the clarinet flourishes were improvised by Barry Thompson during his session. A former member of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, he was the only musician present with any experience of this sort of music, and his contribution truly makes the song.

A real labrador puppy of a song, it’s impossible to hate ‘Love Love’. Though the lyrics lack insight and the music lacks originality, the finished product somehow stands up even today.