Tag Archives: slavic

#93 – Going Back to Find Her

1 Jun

bocking-87limit-05

Going Back To Find Her (Live, 3rd March 1987 – The Limit, Sheffield)
Going Back To Find Her (Cover by LeoVK)
Going Back To Find Her at Pulpwiki

“In Jarvis’s book, love is a never-ending David Lynch film – songs like ‘Going Back To Find Her’ are as black as pitch. Pulp want to be as horribly compelling as a circus freak show” – Bob Stanley in the NME

We don’t have that many songs to talk about in this era – just eighteen, compared to the forty or so from the ‘Freaks’ era’, so entry into the Pulp cannon seems to be easier than it was before. In theory, this could mean that substandard material could easily have crept onto ‘Separations’, and it’s testament to the judgment of the group that it didn’t, that we have – finally! – a great album from start to finish. It was a close-run thing, though – from the ten tracks considered, nine made it, the other one being ‘Going Back To Find Her’. In an interview for ‘Truth and Beauty’ Nick Banks explained its non-inclusion.

“From what I remember it was similar to ‘Down By The River’, a sort of down-tempo, acousic-y sort of song, and you don’t want too many of them, do you? You want a bit of variety, so it was like ‘This one or that one? This one.’

On initial impressions two things come to mind – firstly that the choice between DBTR and GBTFH was so much down to the wire seems very odd indeed, DBTR being much more worked-out and finished. This is a judgment based on an unfair comparison, however – DBTR never sounded particularly impressive in a live setting, and it took Alan Smythe’s production to bring out the subtle magic of the piece. With GBTFH, early live versions are all we have.

Secondly, it seems self-evident that GBTFH and DBTR are very different sounding songs, and that ‘downtempo’ and ‘acousic-y’ are not obvious adjectives to describe the rather jaunty number from 1987 live sets. With an odd 1-2-1-2 rhythm, it occupies an otherwise-unexplored mid-ground between a Cossack march and a camp glam stomper, and is dominated by Russell’s sarcastic guitar licks and Candida’s chiming keyboard sound. The interplay between the guitar, keyboards and bass is actually quite pleasant, but for something so built around a rhythm, you can’t help but wish the bass line could be beefed up to push the whole thing along. With Steve Mackey on board for the LP sessions, this was very much possible, so once again we might not be hearing the track’s full potential here.

Where the two songs are similar is their theme. Once again we’re using grim metaphors to discuss the perils of returning to a failed relationship for one more try – we even have a line about “her house was by the river.” This time, though, he’s really just going through the motions of this compulsion. Every line describes the relationship in the most unpleasant way possible – “someone who will prop me up / and someone who I’m master of” – and when he sings “I don’t really want to find her” you can more than believe it’s true. If this issue so ‘over’, the question of ‘why bother singing about it’ tends to arise, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want two songs about it on the same LP – it would start to look like Jarvis doth protest too much. Choosing between the two, the backing track makes all the difference – GBTFH being a little too jolly for the somber theme.

Is Going Back To Find Her good enough to go on Separations? Truthfully, it’s hard to say. The fact that it wasn’t included on the remastered version of Separations in 2012 indicates that it was probably never demoed to completion, and for that reason it will probably continue to be consigned to the ‘nice idea, not quite finished’ file for the foreseeable future.

#92 – My First Wife (2)

25 May

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My First Wife (Live 15 July 1987, Barracuda Club, Nottingham)
My First Wife (2) at Pulpwiki

Poor old Pulp, brimming with ideas, yet having to recycle song titles. And poor ‘My First Wife’ – not only existing as one great lost song, but as two, and the second one even better than the first. This time, though, instead of continuing down that flowery, pastoral path, we’re chugging down a more industrial route – albeit one which would immediately turn out to be a dead end.

Because yes, this is for better or worse, the final outing for Slavic Pulp. It’s uncertain why the band suddenly decided to cut off one half of their sound, but it seems likely that it has quite a bit to do with Russell’s waning involvement in the song-writing process. With a baby on the way and an antique glass business to run, there was less and less time for the organisation of a group who might have been finished anyway. Jarvis, meanwhile, was heading down to London with Steve Mackey, and the Slavic thing doesn’t seem to have been relevant to their world of raves and squats.

For a last shot, though, it’s a good one – up there with some of the best of this era. On the surface just another rejection of a lost love affair, it’s actually a pretty powerful rejection of letting your freedom and vitality be taken by formless, nostalgic love – a contradiction to the first ‘My First Wife’ in a sense. With every other song about moving on or moving out, 1987 seems to have been a year of shredding ties with everything that had made the previous five years – a moment which had to happen, perhaps.

The start, to be perfectly honest, isn’t that special – Nick provides another rolling polka beat, Russell picks away with his fairly accomplished gypsy guitar, all nice but done enough before. Things do slowly start to build, but not quite quickly enough, and the song threatens to wither and halt at all times. Jarvis’s intimate, cynical vocal does help matters, though – he seems to almost spit out the words with disgust, and a couple of semi-power chords keep things going well enough. It isn’t until the midpoint of the song that things really take off, with the continual upping of the pace thrusting the song into a series of faster and faster sections, and a full-on Slavic disco onslaught finally ensuing, like Rattlesnake but much more primal and aggressive. It’s almost as if they’re willing it on to be brilliant and almost getting there by just pushing it hard enough.

The song didn’t really last that long – by the time the group were on hiatus it had already been lost from the set, and nothing like it would appear again. Fortunately for fans, it did emerge at the end of the year on a tape compilation put together by the young Mark Webber, alongside The Inspiral Carpets, Television Personalities, Jazz Butcher and Spaceman 3. In a parallel dimension, it’s the b-side to ‘Rattlesnake’ – wouldn’t that have made a great single?

#89 – Separations

4 May

seppy

Separations (Separations, 1992)
Separations – Live Film, Town & Country Club, London (20th July 1991)
Separations – Live Film, The Leadmill, 1st September 1991
Separations at Pulpwiki

Before my bed a pool of light –
Can it be hoar-frost on the ground?
Looking up, I find the moon bright;
Bowing, in homesickness I am drowned.
– Li Bai (701 – 762AD)

“The barbarians are inside the gate. They’re playing Muzak in Jenners.” – Letter in The Scotsman, 2007.

I received a CD of ‘Separations’ one Christmas in the mid-90s. My family were staying at a relative’s house and their stereo was hidden in a nook above a full-piano-sized 1970s electric organ, possibly a Hammond, with switches that produced backing beats like “waltz” and “rhumba”, another to adjust the tempo, and a series of long wooden foot pedals, the use of which escapes me. As I played the CD and we reached the climax of track 4 – the title track, no less – the swirling mass of strings suddenly disappeared to be replaced with the cheapest possible Casiotone beat, cheaper, in fact, than one I’d been playing on the organ before I even put the CD on.

Was this a joke? It seemed likely. Cheap-sounding keyboards and Muzak were a common butt of jokes in the early 90s, from Rimmer’s enthusiasm for “Reggie Wilson’s Lift Music Classics” on Red Dwarf to stand-up rants about supermarket background music. It was just one of those things which seemed to universally be regarded as ‘bad’, and it wasn’t until I listened to Denim’s ‘Novelty Rock’ a couple of years later that the pieces finally clicked. These sounds are ours – they might sound “naff”* but they are all around us nonetheless, we’ve grown up with them – and I bet a 1980s suburban Proust would maintain that they have the power to be as evocative as anything else. They are ours to use. Admittedly, this will only get you laughed at, but if you want to be a pop star “ridicule is nothing to be scared of.” Audiences are there to be challenged, after all.

That one moment dominates my memory of the song so much that it was hard to focus on anything else – which in fact might be a failing, as there’s plenty to admire here. Built from that bare chord progression, and originally called “Eastern Eurodisco”, by the time it was recorded ‘Separations’ had morphed into a sprawling beast of a song, with a cyclical operatic structure in place of the usual verse-chorus-verse and a complex storyline with roots in romantic baladeering and gothic fiction – all presented in less than five minutes.

The first two minutes are dominated by Russell’s Slavic violin – here built up in stature to something like a towering Stravinsky requiem, performed at the funeral of a beloved Transylvanian monarch. The rest of the strings (unbelievable these are just samples) soon join him, and as they are building to a climax Jarvis begins his melodramatic telling of a story of separated, lonely lovers. She’s deserted, all alone.

Then we break down into that Casiotone rhythm, and after a few moments the rest of the group join in, and we continue with “him” – He’s in a new town, getting off a train (haven’t we heard that somewhere before?), filled with optimism and determined to forget the girl he’s left behind. Things quickly turn bad, though, life and nightlife are shallow and unsatisfying, “the drinks won’t do a thing for him / but revive some stupid memories” – and looking to the sky he sees the same moon “she” is looking at.

It’s no wonder that this (often forgotten) song ended up being the title of the album – it seems emblematic of all the changes that the band were going through at the time. Slavic baladeering morphs into suburban lust, gothic romance into electro-pop, cathartic melodrama into that 1990s sense of nostalgic un-belonging. Each side sounds captivating – the first perhaps even more so, thanks to what must be Russell’s greatest single performance. As a centrepiece to the album, as a bridge between the two halves, it does the job perfectly, and while it’s too damn odd to be anyone’s favourite, it’s nevertheless a genuinely passionate, atmospheric piece of work.

*Isn’t it funny how, in 2013, the word ‘naff’ now sounds, well, naff.

#86 – Rattlesnake

20 Apr

Sourced from http://www.cossack.us/old_photos.htm

Rattlesnake (FON demo, 1987)
Rattlesnake at Pulpwiki

“You can dance to our music, but it’s easier if you’re a Cossack.” – Russell in “Cut”, circa August 1987

How much of the value of a piece of music can be put down to scarcity? ‘Rattlesnake’ was once the holy grail for Pulp fans – a legendary professional recording of a raved-about* live favourite, slated for release, shelved indefinitely, and now lost to the mists of time, while rumours of DAT copies circulated for hundreds of pounds. Then, suddenly, it was leaked, and not long after used on the closing credits of Sheffield scene documentary The Beat Is The Law. We’ve all seen these cases before – the gem is unearthed, and turns out to be just another lump of coal – only this time, somehow, the song lived up to the hype.

Even after a thousand listens, it’s an odd thing, though – such an archetypal ’87 Pulp song that it doesn’t seem to even be real. All the usual influences are there – Slavic folk music, of course, but also Scott Walker – Mark Sturdy has pointed out the similarity of the introduction to the start of “The Seventh Seal” from Scott 4. Lyrically, we’re also retreading familiar old ground – a melodramatic treatment of a return to a regrettable relationship. This time, though, we’ve taken a massive leap forward. Everything sounds bigger, better, more professional. It might be entirely to do with the strain of writing this blog (poor me, etc), but there’s something almost shocking about hearing this modern Jarvis clearly expressing himself, talking about return to a bad relationship as usual, but now with an underlying current of sexual tension, whilst at the same time behind him there’s no smooth Chris Thomas stadium-indie product or even electro-pop, but instead Russell goading the group to a frantic Slavic stomp-rock climax. What if the group had been given this level of expertise and studio time for the recording of ‘Freaks’?

No use crying over spilt milk, though, is there? What we have here might be the only decently-produced remnant of this phase, but at least they chose the right track. The absolute apex of Russell’s Eastern-European campaign, ‘Rattlesnakes’ sounds for the world like the Klezmer band at the gates of hell, raising the massed demons to a climax and sending them out into the world to undertake a campaign of shock and awe. To my mind at least, that’s what proper Slavic folk should do, and (strange as it is to say) on this evidence they seem to have a real knowledge of the form. The effect may be down to the presence of a string quartet, hired for the day – or rather a string trio, as one member failed to play to the standard required and had to be embarrassingly let go halfway through the session.

“And the hardest part…. the hardest part is when you stop!”

It’s hard to begrudge them the trick ending – every band is allowed to do this one time, and it’s hard to think of a more suitable time to try it. Then they come back even faster and harder, and we’re cruising.

Suffice to say, it’s a massive shame that FON never got around to releasing this single, and perhaps the disappointment felt by the group explains the dropping of the song from the set and its non-inclusion on the remastered ‘Separations’ in 2012. For us, the something-more-than-casual listeners, though, it’s just good that it’s out there, a little reminder that digging down sometimes gets you a nugget of gold.

*In Melody Maker and Sounds, no less.

#78 – Master of the Universe

2 Mar

Master of the Universe (Freaks, 1987)
Master of the Universe (Sanitised Version) (Single, 1987)
Master of the Universe at Pulpwiki

‘Master of the Universe’ – an explanation:
He was God and she was His congregation.
But when she lost her faith, He lost His power.
Now the thigh-length boot’s on the other foot.
(You might think it’s funny, but someone’s always got to be boss.)

– original sleevenotes

In late 1985, in the middle of the group’s first nationwide tour, Jarvis fell out of a window. It wasn’t a particularly high window, just two floors up, but it was enough to break his wrist, ankle and pelvis, leaving him confined to a wheelchair for much of 1986. Embarrassingly enough, he hadn’t been rescuing a cat or talking down a potential suicide, but doing a drunken Spiderman impression to impress a girl at a party – out one window and in another. Halfway through he realised he wasn’t going to make it to the other ledge and just had to let go.

Stuck in a hospital bed for a month, the tour cancelled, doctors warning him he may not walk properly again… things weren’t exactly looking up. As he lay in his childhood bedroom convalescing, while his Mother sat downstairs watching ‘Lovejoy’, he noticed a bottle of novelty “Masters of the Universe” shampoo he’d bought, and laughed at the irony of using it in his state. What kind of immense power would you need to have to be “master” of the entire universe? How utterly deluded would you have to be to give yourself such a title?

Master of the Universe is a parable, then. The sort of parable which usually stars Anthony Ainley as The Master, i.e. not a particularly subtle one, one which doesn’t bear any kind of serious analysis, but I’ll see what I can wring out anyway. Our protagonist, the “master of the universe”, is in conversation with a female underling who he is taking great pleasure in mistreating. His power comes from faith – without the compliance of the masses under him he is nothing. When his underling fails to take him seriously their positions are inverted, and he becomes her whipping boy / slave dog. He relishes both positions, lending the song a sadomasochistic air – but rather than ringing true in any way this seems to be the same use of sexual perversion we saw in ‘Maureen’ – ‘difficult’ shock-topics resorted to as a replacement for real passion or feeling. It might even have been intended to be funny, but I doubt it.

Understandably, Master of the Universe has garnered more attention for its musical style than its theme. On the surface a grimy goth-rock thrash it in many ways prefigures the ‘Slavic disco’ sound the next line-up would embrace. If you listen to ‘Rattlesnake’ next to MOTU you can clearly hear the shared DNA. MOTU is something of an inbred cousin, though, and you can hear unhelpful hints of other failed experiments, like the whirlitzer organ from ‘Fairground’. The song does at least have some energy to it, so it’s not a pain to listen to, but neither is it a joy. The band’s performance doesn’t really help matters. Jarvis dominates the song with his ludicrously mannered vocal, a nasal growling devil-voice with flat-out annoying pronunciation of common words and bizarre unnecessary trills. Magnus doesn’t help things with his slightly off drums either – though a great drummer, he never seemed to get to grips with this disco rhythm. The rest of the band aren’t helping things either – though the song wasn’t new, nobody seems sure at all of how it’s supposed to sound.

Master of the Universe was an odd choice as a second single from ‘Freaks’ – the only things to be said in its favour being that it was fairly upbeat and that it hinted at the band’s new direction. All the same, it was an unpalatable bit of sci-fi goth-rock nonsense, and backed with the dull ‘Manon’ and the excruciating ‘Silence’ it perhaps counts as Pulp’s worst ever single. Fire insisted that the band re-record two lines to change the words ‘masturbates’ to ‘vegetates’ and ‘comes’ to ‘keeps’, but the idea that this would lead to any radio play was wildly optimistic. The single got two minor, obtuse mentions in the music press and quickly sank without trace. The band, who had split up and reformed by the time it was released, weren’t even sent a copy. Intentionally or not, the single serves as a “so long, fuck off” note to the era, as the band noted on the back of the sleeve;

“This record marks the end of Pulp #3. Pulp #4 will follow shortly.”

#77 – The Never-Ending Story

23 Feb

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The Never-Ending Story (Freaks, 1987)
The Never-Ending Story at Pulpwiki

Sprouts are a very divisive vegetable. Some find the taste to be utterly repellant, Most people tolerate them, but don’t really enjoy them all the same. A few love to eat them, and can’t wait until Christmas rolls around so they can finish off a bowl of the things.

And so it is with ‘The Never-Ending Story’. Even the song’s worst critics (and there are plenty of those) will admit it’s bold and original. Even the song’s fans (few though they are) will concede that it’s sort of horrible. As one of those annoying people who would always rather music be unpleasant than boring, I’d say this – there’s something here. Something that doesn’t exactly charm the ear, yes, but something worth trying all the same.

The newest song recorded for Freaks, TNES represents a bold lunge forward into a musical abyss. On one level it’s another attempt at playing Slavic music, though by the time of recording it’s been twisted beyond all recognition. Russell’s shrill, piercing violin provides the stuttering jig at the heart of the piece, backed up by heavy, thumping beats from Magnus’s kettledrum. Candida’s hypnotic, malevolent organ drone works against the grain of the song, warping the rhythm into a scream. Jarvis’s low-pitched vocal follows the drone most of the time before looping around into yodels (“oh-hyaay-oo-oh” anyone) like a diagram of wind resistance. The verses are quick, the chorus excruciatingly slow, like a wounded animal being dragged along the street. It all shouldn’t work, and it doesn’t, but it sort of does.

What could all this be in aid of? Surprisingly enough it’s a last-gasp attempt at capturing the state of Jarvis’s terrible relationship – the last we’ll be seeing here, and consequently a bit of a grab-bag of left-over metaphors. The relationship is a dance where they endlessly drift apart and meet again, it’s a Hammer horror movie with a mad scientist constantly bringing a useless, suffering corpse back to life, it’s a compulsively-picked, bleeding scab. Everything but the kitchen sink, then, but stretching and mixing metaphors seems to suit the jumbled frustration of the song. everything has become a confusing mess and a bizarre parody of nothing, but it still somehow continues. Again, brilliant, terrible and brilliant.

To me TNES sounds interesting enough to be a single, but in reality it might’ve been an even less popular choice than Master of the Universe. After the recording session it quickly slipped out of the band’s set, a shame, as its energy and passion seemed to go down well in a live setting. Ultimately a messy dead-end, it seems to have finally ended up been “borrowed” by The Wonder Stuff for their 1992 top-10 hit Welcome to the Cheap Seats.

#53 – Srpski Jeb

8 Sep

Srpski Jeb (Sudan Gerri Demo, 1984)
Srpski Jeb at Pulpwiki

“There are several reputedly ‘national’ positions or approaches. Serbian intercourse (srpski jeb) is mock rape – you throw her down, seize one ankle in each hand and raise them over her head, then enter her with your full weight (do this on something soft – the traditional bare earth is beyond a game).” Alex Comfort, “The Joy Of Sex”, 1972.

In his late teens Russell Senior took a trip around Europe, returning with a smattering of obscene Russian slang and a taste for Eastern European folk music. The outlet for these would eventually be Srpski Jeb, a song so ridiculous that it feels a bit silly to be writing about it at all, but here we are.

Over a pounding Slavic rhythm – a semi-competent pastiche using entirely inappropriate instruments – Russell repeatedly chants a single four-line verse about a “village maiden” and her masochistic sexual fantasies. The rhythm gets faster and faster, suddenly stops for five seconds, then starts again from the beginning. The effect is convincing enough – in its own way – but I thought I’d seek out a couple of genuine Slavs, to see what they make of it.

I don’t regard the song as offensive at all, although it pretty much depends on what audience it is addressed to. I mean the song is not ridiculing anyone – the “soviets” are a very vague category (it probably means communist Russians) and I think the girl in the lyrics just expresses preference for Serbian men. We have quite a few songs in Czech that are much more offensive. I don’t think that me being a Slavic speaking person changes anything on that judgment. I think that the pulp went to Yugoslavia in 1984 and met some Yugoslavian punkers who taught them this song that was all the rage there at the time! – Jan

I laughed out loud. – Marketa

To be fair to ‘Sprksi Jeb’ it’s silly enough that any dubious content can’t be taken seriously at all. As a piece on its own it’s a silly bit of escapist fun – brief, funny and enjoyable, but within the story of Pulp it’s the first sign of a movement. As the group found they enjoyed playing pseudo-Slavic folk music it would become a major part of their sound towards the end of the decade, and you’d never guess it started with something as ludicrous as this.