Tag Archives: sexualised city

#121 – Acrylic Afternoons

28 Dec

drawn curtains

Acrylic Afternoons (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
Acrylic Afternoons (John Peel Session, 5/3/1993)
Acrylic Afternoons (live film, 1994)
Acrylic Afternoons (live film, Brixton Academy 21/12/1995)
Acrylic Afternoons (live film, Paris Olympia 13/11/2012)
Acrylic Afternoons (live reading, Rough Trade 5/12/2011)
Acrylic Afternoons at Pulpwiki

“When people have sex in songs, it’s done in a glossy way, or in a Prince way – ‘I can shag 24 women in a single night’ – but never in a realistic way, like ‘I came after 30 seconds’, so I just wanted to write about it in a matter-of-fact manner. Maybe English people like the thought of it being forbidden, a little naughty, but it’s no good being reserved about it. You can’t have sex reservedly – you know, a bit detached – and that goes against the English character.”

– Jarvis Cocker in Melody Maker, 1993

“Well cut Windsmoor flapping lightly,
Jacqmar scarf of mauve and green
Hiding hair which, Friday nightly,
Delicately drowns in Drene;
Fair Elaine the bobby-soxer,
Fresh-complexioned with Innoxa,
Gains the garden – father’s hobby –
Hangs her Windsmoor in the lobby,
Settles down to sandwich supper and the television screen.”

– John Betjeman ‘Middlesex’

“We’re now in a semi-detached house in a cul-de-sac somewhere on the outskirts of Sheffield….” It’s telling, is it not, that Jarvis feels the need to set the scene with extra observations like these when introducing live renditions of ‘Acrylic Afternoons’. It’s a song about a dream, in a dream, and dreams have a setting; a time, a place, a moment, a mise-en-scène.

On His ‘n’ Hers no such narration is needed to begin the story – instead we have a set of ghostly, ethereal sounds, and the echoed voices of children playing outside. These effects don’t set the mood so much as the idea that we’re in a dream. Creating this 20 seconds of sound turned out to be a more complicated task than expected, and ended up costing the group a fair amount of studio time.

“Originally, this consisted of a piece known as “The Tunes Of Evil”, a random, unsettling noise conjured up out of this old analogue synth. As soon as we’d committed it to tape, strange things started happening in the studio. The mixing desk blew up, the multi-track for “Joyriders” disintegrated and we had to piece it back together by clever jiggerypokery. Ed Buller developed strange pains in his back and generally, the vibe went bad. So we had to destroy this music, but the engineer erased the wrong track. Obviously, “The Tunes Of Evil” didn’t want to die. The piece you hear at the beginning of “Acrylic Afternoons” is different and, as far as I know, safe.”*

Even without this mythology, the intro is creepy enough on its own – but then the dark, rumbling SFX are interrupted by a few jabs of the keyboard motif, and off we go into a steady-but-undancable, feverish rhythm. Like the best of Pulp’s work it doesn’t have any real sonic parallels – a simple enough musical concept which is still hard to pin down. Steve’s bassline is the real driving force – an urgent, dangerous thing, redolent of dark desires. Russell’s violin circles around, sometimes repeating Candida’s keyboard, sometimes breaking free and buzzing about like an angry wasp trapped in the sitting room. This is particularly notable as Ed Buller for once managed to incorporate it into his vision for the song, demonstrating that their two approaches weren’t fundamentally incompatible – though he kept him low in the mix. Altogether, the whole sounds like a series of musical moments linked by the overarching narrative of a pursuit, perhaps like the one in ‘Being Followed Home’ – but now instead of being the prey, we are joyously part of the chase.

It’s a dream, then, and that’s how we started; with “a small child in dungarees who caught his hands in the doors of the Paris metro.”** Then our narrator wakes up, or perhaps he doesn’t – everything after this point seems equally dreamlike. We’re transported to another world – the clearest picture yet of the suburban section of the sexualized city, a place Jarvis expresses equal parts lust and repulsion towards – this ambivalence being perhaps the most important theme of ‘His ‘n’ Hers’. Here the suburbs (South London or Sheffield, it doesn’t really matter) are stuck in a temporal bubble; a world where it is and always has been 4.30 on an eternally sunny July afternoon. The imagery here is vivid, startlingly so – “Net curtains blowing slightly in the breeze / Lemonade light filtering through the trees / It’s so soft and it’s warm / Just another cup of tea please.” Put simply, it’s as evocative as any poem I know, condensing atmosphere, passions, culture and synthetic-fabric-based fetishes into tight stanzas that flow together organically.

It’s a “sexy” song, too, of course, but nothing really explicit happens until we get to the “pink quilted eiderdown…” and even then the almost ‘Carry On’ level of smut it contains is neutralised by the utter lack of a wink or a nod. Jarvis sounds completely sincere in his rapture, and at times is so carried away that he sounds like a breathy nuisance phone-caller. Elsewhere he loses control entirely and embarks on a series of vocal gymnastics – raw, animalistic squeals & squeaks which, again, could be hilarious if they weren’t played so absolutely straight. This could be his best ever vocal performance.

We’ve dealt with quite a few constructed characters on this blog, and there will be plenty more, but with this dream, this fantasy, the woman is subsumed by the place and the moment. She is merely a type, and at the end she is a plural, another single mother in an identical house, having an identical affair. Jarvis isn’t important either; he’s just another visiting lover. The dream isn’t about people then, it’s about the feeling of the moment, the place. Acrylic Afternoons is a hymn to that afternoon in suburbia, a thematic manifesto for the album, and it will always remain in that bubble, delirious, enraptured in the moment.

*This sounds quite like a famous (but possibly partially apocryphal) anecdote about Brian Wilson starting to lose his mind during the recording of ‘Smile’ –

“Yeah,” said Brian on the way home, an acetate trial copy or “dub” of the tape in his hands, the red plastic fire helmet still on his head. “Yeah, I’m going to call this ‘Mrs. O’Leary’s Fire’ and I think it might just scare a whole lot of people.”
As it turns out, however, Brian Wilson’s magic fire music is not going to scare anybody—because nobody other than the few people who heard it in the studio will ever get to listen to it. A few days after the record was finished, a building across the street from the studio burned down and, according to Brian, there was also an unusually large number of fires in Los Angeles. Afraid that his music might in fact turn out to be magic fire music, Wilson destroyed the master.
“I don’t have to do a big scary fire like that,” he later said. “I can do a candle and it’s still fire. That would have been a really bad vibration to let out on the world, that Chicago fire. The next one is going to be a candle.”
— Jules Siegel, ‘Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!’

**A reference to this sign, with a rabbit rather than a child:

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#113 – Sheffield: Sex City

2 Nov

Park_Hill_facade

Sheffield: Sex City (B-side to ‘Babies’, 1992)
Sheffield: Sex City (instrumental)
Sheffield: Sex City (live film, The Warehouse, ITV, 1993)
Sheffield Sex City (live film, Brixton O2 Academy 01/09/2011)
Sheffield: Sex City (Teatro La Cúpula, Santiago, Chile, 2012)
Sheffield: Sex City at Pulpwiki

“At the age of twenty-two, newly graduated and without a clear plan in life, I moved to Sheffield. It wasn’t a city I knew well, and there was no particular reason to move there other than that I knew someone with a room to spare. I was also a big fan of the band Pulp, and their song Sheffield: Sex City had led me to believe that the city held a promise of sorts.” Jon McGregor – ‘On Pulp, Sheffield, and learning a trade’

Sheffield is like another woman, a soft umbrella under which all his stories play out. Sheffield is all encompassing, taunting cheekily, inviting us out or telling us to stay in. I wanted to be there when I heard this song, so I moved there! – Kate Jackson of The Long Blondes in The Guardian

“When I was 16, I and my girlfriend were completely obsessed by this song, and we walked around willing ourselves to see the teeming, simmering, carnal city described, peering into the L-shaped windows of the tower blocks, past the twitching curtains of the semis, imagining the couplings and perversions inside.”Owen Hatherley, ‘Uncommon’

“The morning after My Legendary Girlfriend. Trying to get things done but ending up on a tour round the fleshpots of Sheffield in a T-reg Chevette. Wybourn, Brincliffe, Intake – All these places really exist and maybe these adventures still happen there – I wouldn’t know; I don’t live there anymore.”Original sleeve notes

It sounds like a terrible idea. A misfit northerner gasping and groaning his way through an eroticised description of his hometown over an electro-funk backing? The keyboard player reading a section from a book of erotic fantasies in a flat Sheffield accent? Experimental sound & stereo production? An eight-and-a-half-minute-long b-side with no chorus? What could lead professional musicians to embark on such a folly?

In reality, though, we all know Sheffield: Sex city is nothing short of monumental. Since you’re reading this I expect it means as much to you as it does to those quoted above – I know it does for me – and if it weren’t for the after-the-watershed content and the running time I think we all know it would be as well-known as ‘Babies’ or ‘Do you Remember The First Time?’. Somehow, though, it’s even more than that. It’s a song that deserves to have a time and a place associated with it, or even better a film – A night in Sheffield, as directed by Antonioni or Żuławski – and even then it would be simply too big. It inspires not only dreams, but art, literature, life decisions. In only one way is it disappointing; after dreaming so big, all that’s left is the comedown.*

For a dream, though, S:SC can seem awfully brutal at times. At its darkest the song seems like a partial re-write of Blue Glow, in which the very buildings seemed like enemies or traps, mazes to become lost in. Sheffield is out to get him – primarily by erecting barriers – walls – between people who could otherwise join together to break this artificial alienation. There are also echoes of This House Is Condemned – the narrator is “sentenced to three years in the housing benefit waiting room.” This Sheffield is looming and oppressive, the home of the darkness of the 1980s, the place he had to escape.

These moments are little more than shards of memory, though. If the song has an overarching narrative it’s constructed in a dream logic. Perspectives continually shift, little threads of half-remembered detail keep weaving through. “The fares went up at 7” refers to the famous pricing policy of Sheffield busses, but in context it makes as much sense as someone babbling in their sleep. These fragments of narrative add to the feel of a sweeping overview – are these the same characters or just vignettes of a city with a thousand stories?

In some ways you could be forgiven for feeling the city is being mocked; even the title itself is a parody of the “Steel City” slogan. The listing of districts sounds like an imitation of advertisements for new estates in the 50s and 60s, when places like Park Hill and Kelvin were a physical representation of the future – “streets in the sky”. By the 1990s, of course, these developments were poorly maintained and regarded by many (not all of course, park Hill his now listed and renovated) as a sad indictment of the city’s decline. It would be tempting to think, then, that the Proustian sensory experiences of S:SC are some kind of joke, but if they are then the joke is played so straight that there’s no choice but to take it seriously.

Jarvis could never have written S:SC while he remained in in his hometown. The dream-picture of the city is from the nostalgic viewpoint of an expat or an exile. Most of the group still remained in Sheffield, and it must have been odd for them to have this sudden shift in perspective. A place you live in is the background hum in your head – you tune it out, and only notice it when it’s gone. Some things can only be viewed clearly, then, from outside – the exotic, the familiar, the eternally unknowable. Sheffield is a woman, a lost love, and S:SC is a dirty love letter to her. At times this is even physically represented – in one enduring image he actually “makes love to a crack in the pavement” – but on the whole the femininity of the city is present in its very spaces. The sexualised city is at once a physical place and one that lives in people. The derelict factories, the dead, sterile new estates are in fact living and sentient, teeming with people, all with their own stories, but all part of one greater entity. At times you can feel the weight of this, the oppression of Blue Glow or Being Followed Home, but when this entity is a friend the physical spaces become a vast playground for the lovers, and their actions are amplified so much that passion and orgasm are converted into destruction, collapsing buildings, the whole street dying of lung cancer. How could it not?

As an improvised piece of spoken word on top of an instrumental track, Jarvis’s performance here exceeds any reasonable expectations, sounding at times tormented, flirty, pathetic, lost and ecstatic. Ed Buller’s production helps, of course, most importantly in bringing the mic so close that it sounds (especially at the start) that he’s whispering in your ear.

This is hardly a one-man show, however – the track was a jam at first, and the fact that the Babies single also included an instrumental mix demonstrates that the words were essentially an afterthought. In a way you could say that the track is Candida’s finest moment – as well as taking a lead with her Ray Manzarek plays Stereolab keyboards, she joins in with a reading from a book of women’s erotic fantasies compiled by Nancy Friday.

SSC

So convincingly deadpan is the reading that you naturally imagine she’s recounting her own experience of living in a concrete tower-block looking out onto a thousand identical windows, wondering what was going on behind the curtains. Never the most outgoing of people, Candida seems to have been too embarrassed to perform this live, and it was therefore cut out (in the 90s) or replicated with a recording (on the reunion tour). Later on she joins Jarvis on a call-and-response section around the stereo space – I don’t have a lot to say about this, but it’s wonderful nonetheless.

Steve Mackey – that other exile from the North – plays an important role here too, his steady bassline brought down to a throbbing sub-woofer heartbeat by Warp’s in-house producer Zebedee. The production throughout is refreshingly minimal – Buller adding as few layers as possible in order to produce a meandering live feel to replicate the meandering dream-like narrative. Nick is somewhere out there, continuing discreetly, while Russell’s violin is only audible at certain moments, and is used essentially as a condiment, sparingly.

As a representation of what Pulp were, what they could do, what they could say, Sheffield: Sex City works as well as anything else they’ve done – perhaps even more-so, as you couldn’t imagine anyone else producing anything like this.

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” – Closing narration to Naked City

*As a corollary of that, I have a question; how can the creators of this have not gone on to create astounding books or films? The only obvious thing to blame is the comfort zone people find themselves in when the struggle to make yourself heard is finished and won. Still, as much fun as Jarvis’s solo LPs and the Pulp reformations have been, I think we’re all a little disappointed that there hasn’t been more substantial work since 2002.

#110 – Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia)

5 Oct

styloroc picture

Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia) (B-side to ‘Babies’, 1992)
Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia) (Live, October ’92 ULU)
Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia) at Pulpwiki

“Happening in a cul-de-sac near you.” – Original sleeve notes.
“I tried to sing along with it, but it sounded like Whitesnake.” – Jarvis Cocker

Styloroc = another session jam worked up into nearly a song and built up in the studio for the Island demo.

(Nites of Suburbia)
= The overdubs three months later where Jarvis added a spoken word section, taken from the band’s blurb on an obscure cassette from 1987. The title is taken from the song they’d contributed to the tape – the theme inspiring the piece. Otherwise the two songs are unrelated.

Styloroc article

#104 – She’s A Lady

24 Aug

160274001_982642a840_o

She’s A Lady (His ‘n’ Hers, 1994)
She’s A Lady (Live at La Cigale, Paris, 1991)
“Cheesy Lady” (Live audio, Portsmouth, March 1993)
She’s A Lady (Live Video – No stilettos, 1993)
She’s A Lady (Live Video – Butt Naked, 1994)
She’s A Lady (Live Video – Glastonbury 1994)
She’s A Lady (Live Video – Santiago, Chile, 2012)
She’s A Lady at Pulpwiki

Sometimes this project is a joy, but this last couple of weeks it’s been more of a struggle. This time it’s not because the track is too big or too personal, but due to the daunting prospect of having to write about Jarvis Cocker’s burgeoning libido. It wasn’t the thing that brought me to the group in the first place, and it wasn’t what kept me around, but as a listener it’s something I have to deal with one way or another. Later on Jarvis would become more self-conscious about this, deconstruct it, start making fun of himself – and everyone could join in with that. At this point, though, we’re at 100% sincerity, and the only option is to enjoy the music and leave this part to those who appreciate it – and it goes without saying that there are many who do, and their view is, if anything, more valid than mine. But does engaging with a song like this mean I have to relate to the “I” or the “you”*? or is there another way in?

All of this is a problem until I actually listen to She’s A Lady again and the intro knocks these now minor quibbles out of my head. That threatening electronic pulse, curious random synthesised piano notes, muttered semi-audible comments from a fever dream, ominous clanging sounds, fuzzy guitar riffs coming in stronger, and yet stronger, then a sudden drop into ice-cold electro. It’s a masterpiece of Ed Buller’s painstaking production techniques – so clean that it sounds almost inhuman, so cold that it sounds like the work of no group at all – but all to drive a tale of red-blooded lust.

That’s hardly the only contradiction on show here either – the whole song is fuzzy in the extreme, a tangle of different ideas and influences without any fixed root. For a start this apparently slick studio product is in fact the oldest thing on His ‘n’ Hers apart from Babies, though early live versions bear little resemblance to the finished product. Well, the guts of the thing are there, but the lyrics and instrumentation are in flux. Aside from the chorus, Jarvis’s role in the earliest versions consists of improvising different stream-of-consciousness descriptions of encounters with a woman. One memorable version from a soundcheck in Portsmouth (included on bootlegs as ‘Cheesy Lady’) has the eponymous female working at the cheese counter at Safeway (“45 pence off Double Gloucester. Emmental is very cheap at this time of the year”).

The body of the song solidified by 1992, but there are still plenty of features that never made it to the record – a thumping drumbeat, an ominous bass-line and – most importantly – a fairly intense workout on the violin from Russell throughout. This last part is the greatest loss as it seems to be an integral part of the song, starting off as a nervous fluttering on the first couple of verses, underlining them in a minor key, then as a series of pizzicato arpeggios from the bridge, working against the tune but lifting it from mundanity into something dark and mysterious.

Maybe this is why Ed Buller cut it out. Here was another tale of stifling sexual tension – he knew what to do with that – but Russell was undercutting it with an air of gypsy balladry, and to be honest I’m not sure how it would even be possible to slot those two things together in the studio. Buller decided that it wasn’t working, and that Russell should go home for a week to practice it, then everyone just moved on. This was something of a cowardly move, if admittedly a shrewd one, and for all the pleasure we can take in enjoying this piece of straight-up electro-pop, the way it soured Russell’s memory of the album (and possibly contributed to his departure a few years later) might well leave us at a net loss.

Let’s not let this taint the song itself though. Whether it’s a dark, brooding boogie or shimmering disco, it’s still a magic mix of the inspired and the pilfered, as many of Pulp’s greatest moments are. The stolen part is hiding in plain sight – a wholesale lift from I Will Survive, the tune and the structure being ‘variations on the theme of…’ and little threads of melody constantly threatening to turn into “Go on now, go, walk out the door…”

Where Gloria Gaynor was asserting her independence and self-reliance, Jarvis is doing quite the opposite. He should stay away from his old flame but (once again) he’s found himself inevitably dragged back to her by an uncontrollable sexual itch. Without her the world has become imbued with desperate sexuality, even “the moon has gone down on the sun.” While Gloria “grew strong”, Jarvis merely “carried on” – going out drinking every night to try to forget, having a rebound relationship with a woman who apparently sells pictures of herself to German businessmen*. This might all be a pose, though – he’s lost in desire as we start, but as we get towards the end his passion seems to have dulled, either that or he’s succeeded in winning her back and want to play it cool – “I guess I kind of missed you…” – maybe it was all just a drunken ploy. Either way, my advice would be to move on.

In its later incarnation as a disco anthem, these lyrics take centre stage, and Jarvis sells them with previously untapped vocal reserves. The screams, gasps, groans and skat vocalisations go a long way towards selling the concept – imbuing this potentially melodramatic piece with real pain and desire – but live versions occasionally took this a little too far to maintain suspension of disbelief. On the “Cheesy Lady” version (admittedly a pre-gig piss-around) there’s a scat breakdown which sounds like Michael Jackson impersonating Jimmy Saville, and that’s not something I want to hear. sorry if I’ve spoiled it for anyone else.

She’s A Lady was a totemic song for Pulp’s early 90s. Though never really single material, it was a common set opener, a showpiece for the group’s different talents and ideas, a statement of intent in its own way. Tellingly, it remained fundamentally in its original non-disco form even after His ‘n’ Hers was released, and was lost from the post-Russell set. That’s ok, though, it just seems to belong to that time.

*This is also the first time Jarvis has been so direct as to address a song to the second person.
**This line is a bit too much of a novelty for my taste, but it doesn’t seem too out-of-place.

#99 – My Legendary Girlfriend

13 Jul

MLG Single

My Legendary Girlfriend (Separations, 1992)
My Legendary Girlfriend (BBC Soundcheck – Caff Single, 1992)
My Legendary Girlfriend (Music Video)
My Legendary Girlfriend (Live Video, The New Sessions)
My Legendary Girlfriend at Pulpwiki
My Legendary Girlfriend (Hit The North Soundcheck) at Pulpwiki

“That was about my girlfriend that I’d had in Sheffield. See, I never liked to mix business with pleasure. I’ve always kept my private life separate from music. So I’ve always gone out with girls who aren’t interested in music, and so people always asked me about my legendary girlfriend, because they’d never seen me with her.” – Jarvis in Record Collector #184, December 1994

Some groups break through suddenly, others take their time. Pulp took the journey as a series of uneven steps – and with My Legendary Girlfriend, we’ve reached one of the larger ones. In another world, this would have been their first big hit, and in a sense it was, but approaching it now it stands out as both half-forgotten (it has been rarely played live since around 1993) and – yes – legendary.

By 1989, Jarvis had been attempting to be a pop star for more than a decade, and failing by any measurable standards. The lyrics, the look and the music itself had all been rather hit and miss, and even when they been utterly wonderful, it had always been as the makers of outsider art of one form or another, always offering a challenge to any accidental listener. There had been experiments at making pop songs, sure, but they had been variously guilty of assuming popular music equalled dumbed down mulch and throwing ‘dark’ elements into the mix to counteract the pop fizz.

My Legendary Girlfriend is an astonishing record because it sweeps all of this away and reveals artists who are able to use popular forms to give their material greater depth rather than compromise it – to take what must have seemed to be odd fringe elements of their styles and tastes and tie them together to make something fresh and appealing. There are new things here, of course, but also much that has been covered before. Here are the night-time wanderings of Blue Glow and Being Followed Home, the breathy monologue of Goodnight, the separated lovers of Separations – but all tied together into a compelling, vivid story.

The catalyst for this is something the world of 1980s indie music had forgotten about – the groove. To the already unlikely-looking list of influences already mentioned we have to add Barry White – an artist much maligned in the last couple of decades (i.e. ‘The Walrus of Love’, Vic & Bob, etc) and remembered mainly for commercial love ballads rather than his smooth Love Unlimited Orchestra funk. My Legendary Girlfriend draws from the song of his you’re most likely to have heard – though if you’ve been listening to Heart FM they’ve been depriving you of the vital section. Before you continue reading, please have a listen here to the intro (the first 50 seconds or so) – the bass, the rhythm, the muttered vocals, the ‘we got it together’, sound at all familiar? Unlikely as it may seem now, this group of apparent misfits on the fringes of society had been listening to “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything,” tried jamming a version of it with Jarvis improvising lyrics on top and suddenly everything just clicked. For a while, the song was simply called ‘Barry White Beat’.

It wasn’t like funk was unheard of in Sheffield – this is the town and the recording studio that gave us Chakk after all – but earlier examples had generally been of the angular, moody sort – the kind you couldn’t dance to without doing a line of whizz and glaring around the dancefloor. My Legendary Girlfriend isn’t moody, though, it doesn’t strike poses. Disguised as it is by the MIDI-sequencing that took over much of Separations, that very human, gut-driven funk is still the driving force. To hear this clearly, listen to the live version released as a limited edition single by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne the same year – nothing is sequenced here, just a group of musicians getting into a groove together, and the song is all the better for it.

This isn’t to do down the studio version of the song, though – they were able to retain this feel despite the track being partially sequenced (on new machines they were just learning to use, let’s not forget) – and just to top it off added all manner of synths, effects, odd noises and effects, all adding to the track in different ways. Even Russell’s wah-wah guitar sounds utterly integral, though his influence in the group was waning by this point. Overall the production, like the song itself, is wildly ambitious – but for once they’ve hit their target, shot the moon.

The best part of all must be Jarvis’s vocal – ironic as there are very little in the way of fixed lyrics here. As we get into the era of recording-first, performance-second, Jarvis would get into the habit of procrastinating over putting down lyrics until he ended up writing them on the day he recorded them, but here the improvisation is all out in the open. Every live performance starts basically the same, then veers off in a different (and usually very odd) direction – the version on Separations has “oh, Pitsmoor Woman!” and “no cheese tonight” – the BBC soundcheck version “girl over there with the hot pants on” and our first sighting of “that bloke who tries to sell you felt tip pens”. But despite this, there’s more of a story here than in almost any of their previous work.

We start in his girlfriend’s bedroom – they’ve “finally made it”, she’s asleep, but something’s nagging at him. He goes to the window, returns to wake her, and they go wandering around the city together – either in reality or in a dream – this is intentionally unclear. After that it’s all feeling and free-association, the verses wracked with desperate yearning (“let me in, let me come in”), the chorus a descent into relief – but sad, lonely relief, the girl now deserted, abandoned. Which part is “real”, then? Maybe neither, maybe everything after “I wonder what it means” is a fantasy, it probably doesn’t matter.

Jarvis spent a lot of the 80s walking around Sheffield in the dark, and when he was gone it seemed to still be the landscape of his dreams. So many of Pulp’s best songs are about “the city at night.” This is a step up from ‘Blue Glow’ though – the city isn’t just frightening but is also alive with hidden sexual intrigue – a magical realm where deserted factories and cooling towers represent a fantasy playground, one whose endless hidden mysteries they are free to explore. Owen Hatherly calls this the “sexualised city” – a place where sensuality opens a gap for fantasy to bleed into reality.

Because THIS is the vital element that makes it all work. Up to this point Pulp had assiduously avoided talking about sex in all but the most perverse and uncomfortable fashions – “My blood upon the tarmac / I tore the dress from your back” “They make love beneath Roger” – all that. Perhaps it was the move away*, or the freedom of release from his first long-term relationship, or maybe just Barry White, but suddenly sex is a source of wonder and excitement rather than worry. This isn’t a lyrical device either – it extends into every aspect of the performance. The pretence of the croon is long forgotten, and instead he’s using his vocal to let something out. After a decade of control it’s almost shocking to hear the pants and groans he puts into the performance. The sheer cheek of pretending he’s a sex symbol, the audacity to somehow pull it off.

Staple of the indie disco as it may or may not have been,** My Legendary Girlfriend has lost none of its vitality through the years. This is Pulp at the top of their game, the start of the band we love, their first undeniable classic, their “This is us, and we’re just getting started.”

(A note on the video – it’s not a classic but a decent recording of a good performance, and that’s enough. Apparently it was a nightmare to make, but on the plus side Jarvis’s comments offer us a rare glimpse into the world of Pulp in 1991 – “There were quite a few false starts on this one. First we tried filming something in the room of the East End pub where the great train robbery was planned (don’t ask why). Unfortunately we didn’t light it enough and so ended up with mostly black film. I then shot some stuff of my girlfriend of the time but then split up with her and became too depressed to use it… hmmm. We were now in a difficult position as I had spent just about all of Fire’s massive £200 budget and had nothing to show for it. Unchained Melody was at number one at the time and I liked the way it used one performance of the song filmed from various angles as the video. So we decided to try and do something similar in the photo studio at St Martin’s. We blew the rest of the budget on a star-cloth background and I ended up having to make Nick a drum kit out of cardboard because we couldn’t afford to bring the real one down. Luckily, it worked.”)

*Unlikely as Jarvis has said he went through a sexual drought during his time in London
**It was already becoming a rarity when I started going in the late 90s. We’d hear that drumbeat, dash onto the dancefloor, then every time it would turn out to be ‘I Am The Resurrection’ instead.