Tag Archives: little girl EP

#55 – Blue Glow

22 Sep

Blue Glow (Little Girl EP, 1985)
Blue Glow at Pulpwiki

“In Sheffield I lived in an old factory building which was right in the centre of town, so coming back from nightclubs at two or three in the morning I would just walk through a semi-derelict industrial landscape to get home. I got kind of used to that thing of walking through deserted places, feeling that you had the city to yourself at that time of the night, which was great because being somebody on social security or whatever at the time, in a band, leading a fairly precarious existence, you certainly didn’t feel that you owned the town when it was light and when it was getting on with its business, but when everyone else was asleep you could walk through and really feel like it belonged to you.” – Jarvis Cocker’s Wireless Nights, BBC Radio 4, 2012

The 1991 film Les Amants du Pont-Neuf has one of the most inspired opening scenes of all time. A homeless man, strung out on drink and pills, stumbles down a vast deserted highway, eventually lying down and passing out in the middle of the road. Cars career down the road, swerving when they see his prostrate form, until one fails to notice him and runs painfully over his ankle. A woman with a dirty eye-patch and a mop of bedraggled black hair runs over to him, and helps him onto a night bus full of other casualties of the city.

When most musicians sing about the night at one time or another, they stick to the club and the bedroom, but there’s a city out there – the same streets, the same buildings, but deserted save for the odd straggler, silent enough that an occasional noise can imbue everything with sudden drama. Jarvis knew this world intimately, and a Pulp geography of Sheffield would surely be placed at 4am, after the last clubber has gone home, but before the first milkman has started making his rounds.

‘Blue Glow’ is the famous balcony scene – only here Juliet is wrapped up inside, watching late night TV on her own, and Romeo is lurking in the bushes below her window. He’s not malicious, just scared… lost in the city, following her out of desperation – a longing for someone to join him. It’s not so much love as a frantic need – she could be anyone, or no-one – perhaps she doesn’t even exist. By the end he’s a lost cause, wandering dirty and shivering by the river with his clothes in tatters, still pleading with her to come and make everything better.

These are some of Jarvis’s strongest lyrics, but they wouldn’t stand up as well as they do without a fine showing from the rest of the band. Peter Mansell in particular puts in one of his best performances – his curious, seedy bass line sets the tone for the whole song, propelling it through various spasmodic pulsations from Russell’s violin and the gothic chiming of Candia’s dulcimer. The verses are perhaps the apex of Pulp’s ‘dark sixties ballad’ phase – understated but perfectly judged, tuneful with a creeping underlying menace.

The chorus is a whole different affair, though. On one hand it’s a solid hook for the track – a blurting of passion to relieve the tension of the verses – and certainly it’s memorable enough. On the other hand there’s a sense that perhaps they are trying too hard here. Matched with something else, it could be perfectly good, but contrasted with the perfection of the verses it can’t help but be a bit of a let-down.

Blue Glow wasn’t anyone’s favourite at the time, but since fans began to explore the group’s early work in the mid 90s it’s been rated as one of the highlights of this era. I even named my first fanzine after it. The inclusion of the track on the compilation “Untitled 3” means that thousands of mainstream indie fans have a copy of it, uniquely for anything else pre-Separations. I wonder what they make of Russell’s wall of screeching violin noise at the climax.

#52 – Simultaneous

1 Sep

Simultaneous (Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) EP, 1985)
Simultaneous at Pulpwiki

1984 may have been one of Pulp’s most productive wilderness years, but it was also a high-watermark of social and commercial isolation for the group. Their audiences – a drunken rugby club and the patrons of a brothel for example – were at best unimpressed and sometimes openly hostile. Their recording sessions were in spare rooms used for karate and table tennis, and record companies showed no interest at all.

It was on the 10th of July 1985, nearly two years after the release of ‘Everybody’s Problem’ that Pulp signed a recording contract again – a deal with Fire Records, an indie label set up by Clive Solomon. It was hardly a huge leap forward, unless that huge leap is into a sodden mire, but at least it allowed the budget to embark on professional recording sessions again. The Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) And Other Pieces EP was the result of the first of these sessions. Simon Hinkler returned as a producer and did an outstanding job. Pulp had been rehearsing these songs for years, but each one has their performance captured at its peak – though daubed in layers of ghostly reverb each instument sounds distinct and individual, while retaining an intense spontaneous feel.

So, anyway, if all this backstory reads like a reluctance to discuss the song at hand then that’s because it is. ‘Simultaneous’ is easily the least remarkable thing on an excellent EP. It’s comprised of parts which remind you of other songs from this era – the fast section from ‘The Will To Power’, the violin drone of ‘Blue Glow’, second-person lyrics about a failing relationship like ‘There’s No Emotion’, a ‘waking-from-a-dream’ motif similar to that in ‘Being Followed Home’ – all of which draw unfavourable comparison. The one highlight is Jarvis’s dulcimer, which sounds splendidly medieval and discordant. The lyrics do contain a few minor gems – the opening “There’s a place for you / You’d better stay in it” and the stuff about “timetabled kisses” “well-rehearsed phrases” and “separate bedrooms” – but it’s all spoiled by dodgy rhymes like “forsaken / mistaken” and a general feeling that we’ve done this topic already.

It’s 85-Pulp-by-numbers in other words, and is easily outshone on the ‘Masters of the Universe’ compilation by pretty much everything else. It should be noted, though, that the band felt differently, for whatever reason, and ‘Simultaneous’ remained a baffling mainstay of live sets around this time.

#51 – The Will To Power

25 Aug

The Will To Power
The Will To Power at Pulpwiki

Russell Senior looked a bit like Hitler. Sure, he didn’t have the moustache, but the hair, the seriousness and the thousand yard stare were enough. Always the most politically active member of the group (and a flying picket during the miners’ strike of 1984) his views were at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Nazis, though a popular idea holds that politics can be described more as a circle than a straight line. Certainly his taste in philosophy and fetishisation of revolution had more in common with the extreme right than they did with the “SDP mood” of the era.

The lyrics of TWTP are deliberately provocative to an extent which is hard to justify. A popular story, reported as fact in Martin Aston’s book, says that the song had to be dropped from the band’s set after it attracted a skinhead following, but this is most likely to be either a joke or a massive exaggeration on Russell’s part – especially as it sounds suspiciously like a near-identical story about Cabaret Voltaire and their early track “Do The Mussolini (Headkick)”.

This is illustrative of a general lack of sincere description of the song and its purpose. Every quote available does more to obscure the meaning than clarify it – Russell’s description of TWTP as “a real commie anthem dedicated to Arthur Scargill and Nelson Mandela and the IRA” is particularly disingenuous – you’d be hard pressed to find any communist who’d feel the song was for them. This muddled message perhaps betrays a confusion at the core of the lyric. One vital fact missing from statements about the song (but which becomes self-evident when reading the lyric) is that it’s a character piece with a well-drawn protagonist. A confused, bitter small-town Nietzsche fan’s fear of powerlessness leads him to a pathetic desire for fascistic strength of mind and the gratification that comes with the release of physical violence. The more impotent he feels, the more angry he becomes with the world, until at the end he’s blubbing about ‘truth and beauty’. It could be funny if it wasn’t played so straight – and this is where explanations start to break down. Russell’s vocal sounds so utterly sincere that it’s hard not to take him at his word – and this tallies with one particular, seemingly meaninglessly provocative description of the song.

“I’d been reading about Germany at that time and the class conflict. I liked that atmosphere but obviously not from the point of view of being a Nazi. A lot of Left Wing statements are too wishy-washy, too nice. I like the sharpness of the Moseleyite addresses. They were on the wrong side but they were better organised.”

The secret to the success of The Will To Power is all in the performance and the production. A post-punk beat poem, it’s driven along by mournful guitar licks. Russell becomes more hysterical, fanatical as the track progresses – at one point his voice suddenly sounds so furious he could be an angry dalek – and the music follows suit soon after, breaking into a violent marching thrash. Vocal whips up backing, backing eggs on vocal, both becoming increasingly desperate, and finally breaking into exhausted, resigned but still angry defeat. It’s a tough trick to pull off, and live and demo versions are let down by a lack of focus. On the finished version from the “Little Girl” EP, however, the production is spot-on, with what’s almost certainly Russell’s best vocal of all time, guitars that sound sad and angry in the right places, and a runaway energy powerful enough to be genuinely frightening.

Nobody would consider ‘The Will To Power’ as a good introduction to Pulp, but perhaps they should. For all its confusion it’s a fascinating, complex piece of work, a hymn to sincerity and a bleak warning of its power at the same time.

#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.