Tag Archives: waltz

#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.

#91 – My First Wife (1)

18 May

Dot 1951, Tanganyika

My First Wife (Live, 3rd March 1987 – The Limit, Sheffield)
My First Wife (1) at Pulpwiki

“My First Wife” – that’s quite a good name for a song, isn’t it? Marry a series of hazy reminiscences to a name like this, pair the stark with the indistinct, and you’re setting the listener up for mystery and intrigue. A good idea, then, yes, and that’s presumably why Pulp used the title twice for different songs within a few months in 1987. Both songs were subsequently abandoned, and both only came to light much later when more obscure bootlegs began to circulate. This is the earlier of the two, though (confusingly enough) it’s the most recently unearthed, and beyond a title it has nothing at all in common with its namesake.

The song occupies an odd mid-point between the amateur dramatics of ‘Take You Back’ and the more refined, wistful, ‘David’s Last Summer’. Introduced with the words “nostalgia time”, we open with a cheap Portasound waltz rhythm, sounding like a broken old music box, a souvenir of some more innocent time. It’s presumably just a pre-set rhythm, but the remainder of the song is built over and around it to pleasing effect.

The meat of the piece is Jarvis’s monologue – not a first, but sounding here more like a poem than the meandering, dream-like stories we get elsewhere. A series of nostalgic images of a summers day, it forms more of a picture than a story, vivid yet subsumed by a pleasantly drowsy summer haze. From time to time this is punctuated by curious violin phrases from Russell, then Candida joins in with a slightly out of tune chiming keyboard effect. Oddly enough, it’s this part that shows the most promise, sounding somehow fresh and shocking, though at the same time it also lets the song down by being ill-timed and out of tune.

Towards the end we’re suddenly and unpleasantly thrown down into one of Jarvis’s impassioned screaming sessions. A subtle idea like this can’t really survive being plunged into melodrama, and it’s telling that this is the last time we’ll hear him trying anything along these lines. Rolling timpani, Magnus Doyle style, appears on top of the violin, then suddenly Jarvis reverts to his lounge-singer croon for a few lines. It’s all a bit of a mess – a shame for something that started so well, but not every experiment can make it.

We’ve seen many promising songs disappear into the ether through the eighties, but thankfully this time something was salvaged an put to better use. The descriptions of summer in the first half of the lyric were reused as a basis for ‘David’s Last Summer’ a few years later. If it hadn’t been abandoned in the first place, perhaps its much more successful descendant would never have seen the light – so maybe it was all for the best.

#84 – Don’t You Want Me Anymore

6 Apr

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Don’t You Want Me Anymore (Separations, 1992)
Don’t You Want me Anymore at Pulpwiki

“It would have been easier to stay in Sheffield – I knew lots of people and felt I had the measure of the place, and then you come to London. In Sheffield, everyone congregates in the centre of town at weekends, which of course they don’t do in London, so I’d do sad things like ending up walking around Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night, wondering where everybody was, but of course it’s all tourists.” – Jarvis in ‘Pulp’ by Martin Aston, 1996.

Sheffield is bigger than I thought it was. With more than half a million people it’s the third most populous urban district in the UK, bigger than Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol or Bradford. In England, though, anything that isn’t London is “the sticks” – and some spend much of their lives dreaming of escape.

“Don’t You Want Me Anymore” is a projection, or a premonition – perhaps a nightmare. Jarvis was still living in Sheffield, for the moment at least, but his time was drawing to a close. He’d moved out of the factory building off The Wicker, and moved in with Russell, who was learning that his bandmate spent his days buying useless nicknaks from jumble sales, cooking inedible food and not doing the washing up. More importantly, he was taking a foundation course at Sheffield Poly, and would have been in the process of applying to universities as the song was written. Soon he would be down in London, his ties to his hometown forever stretched, his view of the place no longer prosaic but instead a free flight of fantasy.

For now, that view hasn’t coalesced, but we have at least moved on from faulty relationships to less-well trodden, more fertile ground. Like Master Of The Universe a year before, Don’t You Want Me Anymore deals with what we might call the ‘bedsit ego’ – the arbitrary inflation or deflation of your self-esteem when you live in a world where it isn’t pegged to anything solid. Instead of relying on sci-fi cliché, though, we’re presented with a more real-world example. The narrator has left his home-town in disgust – both with the city and his now ex-girlfriend, who, in a delicious nod to Chris De Burgh, is described with “I’ve never seen you look so ugly as the way you did that night.” He’s been away, made his name elsewhere, and now is coming back home an imagined prodigal son, returning in triumph to revel in his power over and pity for the girl and ungraciously receive the adoration of all the other people who’ve missed him so much.

Inevitably, the return is a bit of a let-down. The girl has moved on, is no longer interested, only wants to “wave and say goodbye” – and the rest of the town have come to see him, yes, but instead of the ticker-tape parade he’d expected they only want to laugh and jeer at him. He’s not a returning hero, just a failure who was too weak to stick it out in the first place.

It’s a delicious little parable, all the more so for being perfectly plausible, and the fact that there’s a faint whiff of melodrama about the whole proceedings seems fine, this time. Behind Jarvis’s theatrical vocals the rest of the group spin out a jerky Gypsy tango, with haughty violin and march-time drumming from Nick, in what Mark Sturdy describes as “spaghetti western high drama” – and while this sound would end up being yet another of the musical cul-de-sacs followed by the group in the late 80s, it was at least one of the more scenic ones.

That there was something fairly special going on here must’ve been clear to the group, as Don’t You Want Me Anymore was chosen as the lead track to be recorded for the group’s first single on the nascent FON records, the studio and record label that would serve as the precursor to Warp Records in the 1990s. This version, whose release was repeatedly put off, and finally shelved permanently, is fairly similar to the version released on Separations years later, with a few minor, but important changes. The FON version relies more on Jarvis’s Portasound keyboard, features much less in the way of gasps and noises from Jarvis, and struggles to escape the twin issues of Steven Havenhand’s weak bassline and Nick’s difficulty in playing naturally along with the keyboard. The live treatment given by Alan Smythe during the Separations sessions fits the song much better, with layers of keyboard lines used to add flavour and colour to the song rather than keep fixed in tandem with it.

Here, then, is the sound of a confident band who seem to know moreorless what they are doing. Yes, we’ve still got a jumble of seemingly random influences jostling for position, but suddenly they seem to be able to slot them all together into something that makes sense. The fact that this would end up sounding very much like The Past when placed among the likes of “My Legendary Girlfriend” just goes to show what giant leaps the group were about to make.

#70 – 97 Lovers

5 Jan

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97 Lovers (b-side to Dogs Are Everywhere, 1986)
97 Lovers (live video – 10th July 1985 – Gotham City Club, Fascinations Nitespot, Chesterfield )
97 Lovers at Pulpwiki

“Why 97? It could just have easily been 970 or 9,700. Just take a short walk around town and you soon lose count of the deformities. By the way, what’s that growing on your back?”
– Original sleeve notes

Don’t those notes just sum up nicely everything that’s right and wrong about Pulp at this point? An explanation that fails to explain anything, but instead broadens and muddies the story beyond all comprehensibility. Or, put another way, an explanation which refuses to be tied down to a prosaic recounting of events, instead building a vivid mythology around the song. Which explanation you go for depends on your willingness to suspend your disbelief – and the same can be said for ’97 Lovers’ as a whole.

The song itself is a fairly simple pair of vignettes, united by an overarching theme of… what? Unhappy love lives? The universality of romantic frustration? An obvious comparison would be Eleanor Rigby – except these lonely people have their own personal insecurities feeding their troubled relationships. That is even a stretch, though – the couple in the first scene (besides being fairly strange) seem to have nothing so terribly wrong with them. It would be odd if they did, as the woman involved was Jarvis’s aunt.

“That was the first time I got some good lyrics out. One bit was about my auntie – in her bedroom, she had a picture of Roger Moore above the bed, with this short toweling dressing gown. I always thought ‘God, it’s weird when they’re in bed having it off under that picture. My uncle must know she’s probably thinking of Roger while he’s doing it to her.'” – Jarvis in Record Collector, 1994

The second section features a woman putting on a brave face after a break-up, only for her attempts to come to nothing when her ex returns, “picks her heart up off the table / and he watches it smash on the floor.” Compared the the first verse it’s fairly generic, and again you have to wonder what the message is. Love is a painful business? Of course it can be, but here it sounds like that’s the only sort. Pulp sound a bit one-note at this point, and a special effort is needed to ‘sell’ the misery, or else they might easily veer into self-parody.

Fortunately the band put in a performance which achieves exactly this. Jarvis darkly intones the lyrics like a man who has just seen something unspeakably terrible, and can barely bring himself to tell you about it. Magnus’s timpani ominously builds up, and Candida plays a simple, enduring four-note farfisa melody throughout. The highlight, though, is Russell’s mournful waltz-time-violin, providing the real sadness at the heart of the piece. ’97 Lovers’ isn’t a complete success – it has to catch the right person, in the right mood – but it does what it does well.

#64 – Fairground

24 Nov

Fairground (Freaks, 1987)
Fairground at Pulpwiki

“The other reason we called it ‘Freaks’ was because we always get called freaks, the escape party from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, stuff like that. When we play live, everybody dwells on the fact that I’m thin with specs, Russell looks like Count Dracula, Candida although she’s 23 looks 14, while Pete looks like a football hooligan. We were always getting called freaks so we thought let’s call the LP ‘Freaks’ just to… put two fingers up.” – Jarvis Cocker, Sounds, 27th June 1987

Are you normal or are you weird? It’s a question we’ve all had to answer at one time, usually in high school. And then you have to decide whether you’re one or the other. Sometimes it’s easier just to go with the flow – being a freak is, in a way, a liberating experience. You can do whatever you like and people will pay attention to you. Take this to its logical extreme and eventually you’re a sideshow attraction. Come and see the freak, kids! This could’ve been you if you’d been unlucky / lucky / clever / stupid / different. Of course, if you’re just trying to be yourself (that being the normal state of things) then this can all be a bit too much to take.

‘Fairground’, the opening track on Freaks, presents the group as a particularly unpleasant carnival sideshow act. It’s not exactly an easy listen. Every note, from the woozy fairground organ to the distorted screaming and the way it keeps shifting into unexpected keys seems to be designed to make this listener confused and uncomfortable. Russell’s intention was always to weed out the more casual or conservative listeners, and he must have been successful here. Despite the poor quality of the recording, this cacophony is intentional, and had been planned for years.

That isn’t to say that the recording session was a success. ‘Freaks’ is the very definition of a poorly produced album. The limited time and resources availiable meant that moreorless everything was a rough first take, and no song suffered more than Fairground. The night after the recording Jarvis lay in bed groaning with embarrasment at the memory of his studio-improvised ‘carny’ announcements in the instrumental section and swore he would remove them the next day.* Arriving back at the recording studio they found that the masters had already been wiped. The unsatisfactory rough mix was to be the only version recorded.

So far, so bad then. But Fairground is actually very successful in acheiving what the group set out to do – whether that corresponds to anyone’s idea of ‘good music’ or not. Russell’s monologue alone is magnificently theatrical and creepy, a song-length summary of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. The narrator keeps switching between a demented ringmaster and a bewildered spectator, taking a tour around a selection of fairground oddities**, but the astonishing thing is that nothing actually happens – nothing worse than being subjected to ridicule at least. Yet there’s an overwhelming sense of “something wrong here.”

The evil circus trope is one we’re all familiar with, and its signifiers sound obvious enough to make it into a particularly specialised sub-genre. Waltz time, a fairground organ playing simple scales, slightly out of tune, evil laughter. So when I set out to make a mix of the best of this music I was surprised at how few musicians could carry it off without sounding corny and fake. Nox Arcana were particularly disappointing. The best of what I could find is gathered on this podcast. Listen to it at your own risk (of being mildly irritated).

* His vocals are actually fairly good. You’d have thought they’d have been embarrassed about a few other things though.
** Are the “three identical sisters” a reference to Artery’s ‘Into The Garden’? It certainly seems possible.

#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.