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Pulp – IT/Freaks/Separations

Fire

Right yeah, so – Pulp. WHAT I REMEMBER of the time of Different Class is that there was a bit of a sense of them being very much a “ooh, follow your dreams, keep plugging away and eventually you’ll make it” thing, in terms of what the press were saying. Which was nice of them. As if to say ‘even if your entire output is utterly shite, maybe you’ll write a pop song one day. So I didn’t bother venturing much further back than His n’ Hers, assuming that the older stuff wasn’t popular for a reason (ie, ’twas shite). What a dickhead I was. (I still am, in many ways, just not that one).

I don’t like this idea of bands’ early stuff being better though. That’s bollocks. The Fall are the best band ever (that’s an actual fact, by the way) and their first few albums are ropey as fuck. Tom Waits (who I don’t massively like at the best of times) is utterly cack on his first few sides. Paul McCartney went through years and years of turgid, sexless dross before Wings wrote a decent track. Adulthood’s a good thing for a songwriter.

You know that… who was it, Melua? Something like that… wrote a lyric ending “…being 21/ feeling 17.” That’s the sort of thing that people in their early-20s write. Vainglorious tosh that’s about little more than their own crippling myopia. Sometimes they’re lucky (Billy Bragg, Ke$ha) and write a decent tune, but let’s be honest: the whole association of pop music with kids is pretty much bollocks. In terms of writing at least.

(Incidentally, I’m hoping that anyone in their teens is reading this and rightly saying ‘twat the shit off, you pusillanimous dogshit with your rictus-creviced eye-whatsit-thingies-I-don’t-know-whatevs).

Anyway, that’s an aside. Jarvis Cocker didn’t wait until his 30s to have a sudden Lazarus ability to write a great tune. In fact, there’s a possibility (I can’t be bothered to exhaust it by, y’know, actually thinking about it) that the Pulp of these three early albums is an explorative one that’s consistent with We Love Life and This is Hardcore (the latter being their crowning glory, IMO) and the two big albums – Different Class and His n’ Hers – are anomalous. Great, game-changing anomalies but not the be-all-and-end-all of Pulp as a creative force.

IT

(From inauspicious beginnings…) So the first thing to say about IT is that… this is a great pop band who needed a proper studio, a proper budget and a bit of time to work on things. The recording’s duff but the songs are there. Some of the lyrics could do with a bit of buff and polish, and Cocker’s vocal style is a bit enamoured of some sort of new-Romo warble but essentially this is a great band done a disservice by recording/label/time-and-place/the whims of the fates. Cocker’s lyrics are still a bit too polite, rather than the pervy raconteur that we all fell in love with as a pop thing, but he knows his way around a proper chorus. It just feels a bit like a band struggling to break out of the whims of jangly indie-pop. For the four of you who have the original record, I assume only two of you can still hear or aren’t John Peel and therefore dead. To both of you – you probably don’t need to bother with the extra tracks on the re-issue. Everyone else – it’s a good album. Probably worth having a punt on, but it’s likely only really interesting as part of a larger trajectory of Pulp’s career. The alternative version of “Blue Girls” is pretty lush – though I can imagine it was kept off the album proper because it’s not a million miles away from some alt. Elton John.

Freaks

Contexts are buggers. So, basically, this is generally a better album than the predecessor… but at least one of the songs is dogshit. Namely “Anorexic Beauty.” Almost worth giving it a slating just for that.

If I was a different person I’d hear “The Will To Power” on this and not immediately go ‘quoting Schopenhaeur? SOLD’. “Where’s the fanaticism?/ where’s truth and beauty?” I mean… it’s a bit pretentious for a philosophy student to write about Arnie, let alone a pop group. But it works. And, unusually for me, validates the ‘bonus extras’ that are usually sloptray cant that was rightly festering on history’s studio floor. Similarly “Dogs Are Everywhere” – it’s a band that aren’t really trying to be another band (probably the problem with IT) but it’s also not a band that’s settled into a set idea of the sort of songs they want to do. Hence you get a song about a philosopher who was notoriously a bit of a cock, a carnival song, a Velvets-y chugger (“Aborigine”) and one about dogs being everywhere (they are as well. Stupid fuckers). It’s a band trying stuff out, which is kind of the point of being in a band. Some of those ideas are gash (“Anorexic Beauty”) some of them are just brilliant.

Probably more than IT, this is an album let down by recording. Shame, because it’d probably be worth considering as the first album proper to IT‘s demo tape quality. Bonus extras really make it worth re-investing in though – first proper sightings of the Cocker middle-eight breakdown after a few choruses. But negativities aside – really worth spending some time with if (like me) you ventured no further than His n Hers.

Separations

Basically, here’s the score – the very next time someone claims to be a Pulp fan but says they don’t know Separations, tell them they’re a prick and either march them to a record store (which don’t exist any more) to buy this or get your best smug “I know better than you” face out. (Either way you’re a twat – I can’t do anything about that, I’m afraid. Believe me, I’ve tried…)

Yeah. So on this you’ve got them in grand form. You’ve got the pop stompers, like opener “Love is Blind.” You’ve got them making brilliant endeavours in Acid House (“This House is Condemned” and bonus track “Is this House?”). You’ve got the properly pervy “My Legendary Girlfriend” (which is awesome, seriously). I don’t know why this album wasn’t picked up by to a greater extent but it’s a bit criminal to castigate this as just juvenile stuff.

If anything, I think there’s a line – with the latter pervy Cocker of “Babies” or “F.e.e.l.i.n.g.c.a.l.l.e.d.l.o.v.e” there was a sense of confidence in his occupying the stalker’s position; here, there’s a sense of desperation. Which is probably closer to an actual stalker. AGAIN the only thing I can really say to mitigate their neglect is that something like “Countdown” is, basically, a great song not given the budget it needed to live in the proper pop world it belongs to.

Honestly though, I can understand you not bothering with the first two albums on the basis of this review. They’re good, but there’s a million ‘good’ records you won’t bother buying. Separations is something you really ought (to use Schopenhauerian terms) to listen to. As a document of an indie band popping gurners and going not just disco but full on Acid House, it’s amazing, and pre-dates the Madchester/Acid-guitar band crossover surprisingly, without being embarrassing or dated (c.f. Flowered Up). A band not short on ambition, a band capable of fulfilling that ambition.

Let’s do a synopsis then, that’s what real reviews do – well worth a punt on all three of these, if you’re into Pulp and looking for a bit of context; if you’ve only the money for just the one, Separations is your chap. Never heard Pulp? Get Separations and I will quite literally say ‘good arrows’ and smile warmly at you. Quite, literally.

-Kev Nickells-

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