“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.