Tag Archives: psychobilly

#54 – Cousins

15 Sep

Cousins (Sudan Gerri demo, 1984)
Cousins on Pulpwiki

“It was not at all clear to me now why we had put her in the trunk in the first place. At the time it had been obvious, to keep the family together. Was that a good reason? It might have been more interesting to be apart. Nor could I think whether what we had done was an ordinary thing to do.” – Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden

Where to start with ‘Cousins’, arguably the most opaque entry in the Pulp canon? One of the first questions anyone has about a song is “what’s it about?” – well, clearly it’s about something, we’re not dealing with a stream of nonsense or a patchwork of meaningful-sounding clichés here. But beyond that it really is hard to tell much more. We have a twisted relationship (“I’ll take you on the table / I will creep into your garden”), a dysfunctional family (“your mother’s weighted down with the drinks she’s tried “) and a repressed memory of some historical horror (“you can’t escape the blood and shit / You can’t escape, you’re stuck with it”), but how these standard ’84-Pulp themes tie together is frankly anybody’s guess. The lyric is either a well-constructed imitation or the genuine article – a dark recollection of… something, phrased in an off-handed, reticent manner in order to prevent the terrible truth from emerging.

Musically the song is an odd mishmash of styles which somehow just about works. Running through the whole piece is an ominous two-note bass riff, accompanied by variations on a twangy guitar phrase. So far, so “Take You Back,” but there’s more energy here, a smooth, hip energy, and when the jazzy brushed drums come in on the chorus we’re suddenly on the verge of psychobilly – a transition that becomes complete in the final section. An odd journey, and one that doesn’t entirely click, but the contrast never seems jarring. Instead it seems like a song in development – a promising one, which with a bit of thought and direction could be polished into a classic. But it wasn’t to be – after one demo and one live performance the song was abandoned, presumably because the band had gone through their psychobilly flirtations and were looking to build a more coherent album.

Not exactly a lost classic, then, but not bad either. It would’ve made a good b-side for Maureen.

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#46 – Maureen

21 Jul

Maureen (Sudan Gerri Demo)
Maureen at Pulpwiki

A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinaesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status — all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).
J.G. Ballard – Interview in Penthouse, September 1970

What a mess of contradictions we have here. Maureen is famously Pulp’s lost classic, but I somehow have five different versions of it in front of me. Listen to the chorus and it’s a straightforward love song, listen to the verses and it’s a perverse, well- developed fantasy about being knocked down by your lover’s car. It was, for a time, the band’s signature song, but it predates the line-up and never got a proper release. Most confusingly, there’s no “proper” version.*

This is a song with quite a bit of history, so let’s start at the beginning. Originating in Russell’s previous groups The Nightmares and Rachael Tension and the Disruptives, it was reworked by Jarvis, who added the bizarre lyrics about “someone who gets a sexual thrill out of being run over by the woman he’s in love with.” After featuring in The Fruits of Passion, it was recorded in each of the band’s three 1984 recording sessions, clearly intended as a first single. A music video was made with the help of “someone from Sheffield Art College,” but proved to be a botch job – a last-minute re-edit to make the tempo of the song match the style of the film apparently failed to save it. One of the few screenings this video ever got was as a presentation to Fire Records. The label signed them soon after, but were unconvinced by the band’s pleas to release ‘Maureen’ as a single, and put out Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) instead. While remaining an occasional part of the band’s set, the song’s time had been and gone, and a professional recording was never attempted.

Ignore all the nonsense, though, and check out what a song it is – like a breath of fresh unchained air after the professionalism and self-control of ‘It’. We start with Magnus’s irresistible lolloping drum-beat, then there’s a massive release of pent-up energy as the rest of the group dive into a garage-rock / psychobilly thrash. If it sounds like anything it’s one of The Cramps’ fast ones, only with a growling bass line undercutting the treble. Magnus and Manners are the stars here, driving the song forward with palpable energy and aggression. Without their sudden shifts in tempo the drama in the track would quickly dissipate.

The strangest thing about ‘Maureen’ should be the lyrics, and while they are both odd and fairly well-written, they fail to shock, or worse they try to shock, but fail. It’s unclear whether Jarvis had read J.G. Ballard’s ‘Crash’, but it’s clear that this he’s not a genuine sufferer of symphorophilia. Instead of genuinely perverse images we have faux-poetic allusions about “your red car is a hearse / and your red dress my shroud”. Hearses aren’t red, neither, generally, are shrouds. The only time we reach beyond sixth-form poetry is the third verse, with tyres shredding skin and a recurring motif of a red dress, a red car, and of course blood. But the words are not important here, nervous energy is all we need.

* For the sake of sanity I’m basing this on my favourite version – from the “Sudan Gerri” demo of November ’84 – and there’s a good case to be made for other takes, especially the notorious “Bad Maureen” which gave its name to the band’s first session.