Tag Archives: it

End of Part One

23 Jun

Youtube playlist featuring all the songs so far covered

By the time ‘Everybody’s Problem’ was released, Pulp had ceased to exist. The Hinkler brothers were in the new lineup of Artery. Peter Boam, Michael Paramore and Tim Alcard had returned to their own projects. Tim will continue to play a minor role over the next few years. Magnus was playing, temporarily in Tony Perrin’s Sheffield supergroup Midnight Choir. Jarvis had his own side projects – or rather the side-projects had him. The scene had moved into an era of ad-hoc performances and one-off lineups. Pulp weren’t dead though, just entering a pupal phase. What emerged in the January of 1984 would be a very different animal altogether.
We’ll get to all of this a little later. For now, let’s look back at the band’s first era. As I get through this discography I’ll be stopping after each album to put together an alternative tracklisting. For ‘It’ I’ve decided to go for an overview of the band’s first half-decade. Thematically it’s all a bit of a jumble, but I’d say it’s a good overview.

1. I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield (Live in Bath, 1982)
2. What Do You Say?
3. Turkey Mambo Momma
4. Wishful Thinking (Peel Session Version)
5. Refuse To Be Blind
6. Sickly Grin
7. My Lighthouse (7″ mix)
8. Blue Girls (LP mix)
9. Love Love
10. There Was…

So now it’s over to you. What would you put together to sum up this era?

#41 – Joking Aside

2 Jun

Joking Aside
Joking Aside at Pulpwiki

“In my naive days, I thought that you were going to get a girlfriend and then it was all going to be all right. And then you find out that it’s not going to be all right.”

The ‘It’ recording sessions were finished, but the album wasn’t. Five tracks were done, with a total run time of 21 minutes – enough for a fairly long EP, but not enough for even a short mini-album. Tony Perrin, still somehow the band’s manager, had no choice but to go out and find the cash to complete the record. His solution was to play the completed tapes to Tony K of Red Rhino records, who liked the songs enough to stump up £500 for the band to go down to London and complete the sessions, so on the 15th of January 1983 the group went down to London’s Victoria Studios to record one more track. They arrived there without either Peter Boam or David Hinkler. The increasing side-lining of these two talented musicians was a poor sign for the stability of the line-up. Peter seems to have been resigned to leaving the group at this point, but David later expressed annoyance at recording sessions having taken place behind his back.

Aside from the remixing of “Blue Girls” and “My Lighthouse”, the sole product of the day’s work was ‘Joking Apart’ – a track which certainly fits the sound of ‘It’ and brings it up to mini-LP length. Aside from that, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about it. An oom-pah-pah bier-keller waltz, it’s performed in an unironic folky style by the Artery rump of Simon Hinkler and Garry Wilson, with Jarvis’s school friend Jon Short guesting on country-fiddle-style cello. It’s not the usual instrument for this kind of music, and Short wasn’t happy with the single take, but Jarvis and Simon apparently thought it was good enough to keep.

Once again – fortunately for the last time – we hear all about one young man’s search for meaning in the daunting world of adult life, though to be fair these ideas are a little more mature this time. The lyrics are, in places, as good as anything on ‘It’ – “I’d like to turn you over / and see what’s on your other side” would fit well enough on any Pulp album from Freaks to This Is Hardcore. Jarvis makes a play of being disillusioned and world-weary – “Viewed from outside / these pursuits I might try / seem possessed of a certain allure / Now they’re no longer a source of mystery / my faith in them’s more unsure” – but being “unsure” isn’t quite the same as being tired of it all. And notice he “might try” these activities, meaning that he hasn’t tried them yet. This is, then, a prediction of cynicism, rather than real experience of it, but we won’t have to wait too long for the genuine article.

It’s a shame that these promising lyrics are matched to a tune and an arrangement which amount to little more than a nice idea taken way too far. The first couple of minutes are perfectly pleasant, but past that point the song frustratingly fails to go anywhere at all. The only motion towards taking it up a notch is when Saskia and Jill’s “luh luh luh luh” backing vocals come in, but these just sound out of tune and out of place. After the full four minutes and eighteeen seconds the idea that this is just filler becomes hard to shake. Placed towards the end of side A, just after the two “hits” of My Lighthouse and Wishful Thinking, it slows the record down into a lull it never fully escapes from.

#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.

#36 – My Lighthouse

28 Apr

My Lighthouse – Album Mix
My Lighthouse – Single Mix
My Lighthouse – Live, Royal Albert Hall, 2012
My Lighthouse on Pulpwiki

There are two stories about the inception of “My Lighthouse.” One has Simon Hinkler improvising riffs on his acoustic guitar while Jarvis mumbles improvised lyrics over the top. For some reason Jarvis sings “la la lighthouse” and Simon has to starts laughing – “What? Lighthouse?!?” Another version has Jarvis asking Simon for song ideas, getting the reply “Oh I don’t know, write it about a lighthouse.”

Jarvis had recently seen ‘Diva’, directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, a film credited with starting the ‘Cinema Du Look’ movement of the 1980s and early 1990s. The film features a central character who lives in a lighthouse, a concept 18-year-old Jarvis Cocker found to be “the height of sophistication”. The Lighthouse in Diva is a solemn concrete thing, plonked on the overcast Normandy coast, and it’s hard to see why anyone would find it romantic. Jarvis’s lighthouse, on the other hand, is a twee, picturesque thing, unsuitable for preventing nautical disasters.

Yes, it’s a very silly idea for a song, and there’s no way that anyone involved in its production was unaware of the fact. To their credit, though, there isn’t so much as a hint of irony present in the finished recording. The lyric about “you and I in a high tower” passes without the slightest hint of either a leer or a guffaw – this is not the Pulp of “Sheffield: Sex City” or “Seductive Barry” – it’s a song written by an 18-year-old about a romantic fantasy, a charming enough conceit. If the band had continued entirely in this vein it would’ve quickly become tiresome – fortunately even this mini-album contains just one other romantic flight of fantasy, and as we’ll see the novelty has already worn off somewhat.

One thing we’re going to see a lot more through the 1980s is criticism of Pulp’s output being led, in retrospect, by Jarvis himself. The line that always gets through about ‘It’ is that the production was lifted from the first few Leonard Cohen albums. An eternal favourite of sixth-form common rooms, records like 1969’s ‘Songs From A Room’* feature sparely treated acoustic guitar, Leonard intoning his poetry in his trademark ominous burr, and very little else besides. Occasionally there’s a female backing singer for the choruses, occasionally little touches of strings, electric bass and drums, but these just tend to creep in, low in the mix.

In some ways the production of ‘It’ does match Leonard Cohen’s ‘sparse yet warm’ aesthetic. Certainly, the vocals and the acoustic guitar feature prominently, and the drums are barely audible, but there are some major differences. Cohen had used an electric bass, stings and a Jew’s harp – Pulp had none of these things. Jarvis’s voice is really nothing like Leonard’s – in fact he has a much greater range, and often flies off into odd little croony trills. Most importantly, the songs don’t generally merit the sombre treatment – particularly something as cheery and optimistic as ‘My Lighthouse’ – and the shackles of serious production are regularly thrown off.

Generally, when a band generally arrives in a studio to record their first album, they have a dozen or so well-rehearsed songs ready to be put down. Pulp, of course, had no such things – the lineup (if you can call it a lineup) had just played one gig, and most of the songs were still in development. My Lighthouse, typically, was partially developed in the studio – the “It might be strange…” section (can we call it a chorus?) had an entirely different melody previously, a more jangly Cherry Red sort of thing, much in the spirit of the time. What we are hearing on the recording is the first performance of a new melody, one that lifts the whole song both literally and metaphorically. The final touch was the backing vocal, an angelic ‘aaaaaaaaa’ from Saskia and Jill which is much more prominent on the remixed version released as a single the following year.

‘My Lighthouse’ is a little wonder of a song, a moment where it all came together. It’s the most innocent of confections, redolent of the joys of life, an unqualified success to kick off an album which never quite manages to hit those heights again.

*’Songs of Leonard Cohen’, by far his most famous record, features an unusual and atypical amount of strings and backing vocals, which Cohen reacted against with his next few albums.3

#30 – Boats and Trains

13 Apr

Boats and Trains (Youtube)
Boats and Trains on Pulpwiki

A free-form 97-second sketch of a song, Boats and Trains plays its role as a natural coda to side one of ‘It’ so well that it’s hard to believe it came from an entirely different session. With only a long EPs-worth of tracks ready for album, it was plucked out of the ‘Spice’ demo recorded earlier in the year to bring It up to LP-length.
There’s not an awful lot to it, but what is there works quite well. Simon Hinkler plays intricate Spanish seaside mandolin, Jarvis strums the same chords on an acoustic guitar and sings wistfully over the top. The only development in the song comes towards the end when David Hinkler adds a few gentle touches of his Yamaha organ to the mix and Jarvis gives up singing, mid-sentence, to croon “la la la” instead.
The lyrics are typical of the songs Jarvis wrote that summer – simple and sincere, a reaction against the pretentions of his late-70s work. He asks if you would “like to hear / about the things I fear?” but quickly moves on to “If I told you a secret / you’d be sure to leak it.” After the open-hearted yearnings of the previous three tracks on ‘It’ it’s a nice touch to turn against the listener, implying they are a gossip, and not to be trusted, refusing to sing anything but “la la la.” Side two then follows on much more oblique, less personal lines.
It’s a pretty enough interlude, but there’s no evidence that anyone had any ideas on how to develop it further. The fade-out is surprising on first listen, and it may have been longer at some point – Wayne Furniss is credited with playing bass on the track, but there’s none there at all. 97 seconds, though, in the end, is enough.