Tag Archives: romantic fantasy

#133 – Someone Like The Moon

19 Jul

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Someone Like The Moon (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
Someone Like The Moon at Pulpwiki

“I’ve always had a bee in my bonnet about being sold an illusion by songs and TV. When I got older and started to have relationships and stuff, and found that life doesn’t necessarily have a gripping plot, I felt like I’d been conned in some way, so it was always a thing from early on to write about what those things really were like, rather than the way they were presented in songs and stuff. You know, people do live life at just as extreme an emotional pitch in a place such as Sheffield, which has got a lot of faults, but people do fall in love and live and die in those places, and i couldn’t see that anyone was representing that, and I thought it’s just as dramatic as it happening in Beverly Hills or something” – Jarvis on “Do You Remember The First Time?” Radio 1 documentary

It’s just over twenty years since His ‘n’ Hers was released, a little less than that since I bought it, and it’s only this week that I’ve started to like ‘Someone Like The Moon’. For most of that time it was, at best, a mood-killer. Ambivalent as I was to Pink Glove, it at least provided an emotional climax to side B, but when it faded and that impossibly, childishly minimal ascending scale appeared, it felt like a lull, a loss of momentum where the big closer was required. And what was it about, anyway? A bored girl sitting at home? What was that unremarkable mid-paced waltz doing calling itself a chorus before it fizzled out uselessly back into the equally unremarkable verse? His ‘n’ Hers was treading water where it should have been lifting off, and skipping forward to David’s Last Summer seemed to be nothing less than an act of mercy.

With the passage of time, and listened to in isolation, though, SLTM isn’t nearly as bad as all that. It’s a mood-setter rather than an anthem, a succession of tones designed to evoke a feeling – an odd, interesting feeling too. Harking back to the group’s 80s ballads, it switches their melodrama for a kind of spooky boredom, the feeling of being left alone to deal with an impossibly vast existential emptiness gnawing at the back of your mind. Its air of broken romantic balladry sounds like an imagined new romantic incarnation of Scott Walker.

It’s a character piece, but once more intended to give shape to fears which belong to Jarvis and which (hopefully) are universal too – again the disappointment of a romantic when they are inevitably faced with the real world, but this time with romanticism itself being a ploy, a veil for both naivety and cynicism. As a character, the girl is only vaguely sketched, but that’s also sort of the point – these romantic clichés have reduced her to one too. At the end we shift into the third person – as we will do again later in ‘Catcliffe Shakedown’ – making us both observer and observed. It’s a complex piece then, and it works, in its own way.

Being in a recording studio, making a record, involves close observation, and grand gestures which sound great on a car radio may be sidelined by small touches which nobody will notice. Maybe that’s why SLTM is on this LP – the beauty of the sound blinded the group to the flaws of the song underneath. The production of the track is a delicate, intricately layered thing, with subtle layers of synth sounds, reminiscent at times of the Twin Peaks theme, gentle touches of timpani and heavily distorted bass and cymbals faded and smudged to near-ambient levels. Jarvis is close-miked to exploit the resonances in his voice, and this works well too. Best of all, though, is the use of Russell’s violin, properly exploited by Ed Buller for the first time, giving the track a painful, distant sense of yearning.

SLTM is very successful in a sense then, but my initial doubts still remain. There is something fundamentally unresolved and unsatisfying about the track, and slotted penultimately into His ‘n’ Hers, it still sounds like a lull – and an unneccecary one considering the strength of the other tracks which could’ve taken its place. The group’s love affair with it seems to have been brief too – it was written, recorded and released within a few months, then immediately forgotten about. Reproducing it in a live environment may have been difficult, but similar translations between the studio and the stage have at least been attempted. Ultimately it earned a reputation as the duff track on a good album, but does it deserve it? I’m really not sure.

#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.

#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