In 1994 I actually heard a British band on the radio that made me go out and buy the album immediately. The band were Pulp and the song was “Do You Remember The First Time?” I heard it in my car, the only place I could really listen to the radio since my stereo had its display die on me only a few years after buying it in 1984, and it was kind of quaint hearing this band on the radio; a popular medium. I’d heard rumors of Pulp for several years in the early-mid 80s, after which, their trail apparently went cold for a long period. I can’t say exactly when I had read about them during their paleolithic phase, but I was more than ready for their Imperial Period.
The album “His ‘N’ Hers” was a stunner from the get-go. Singer Jarvis Cocker wouldn’t win any awards for vocalizing; his style more accurately, skirted the edges of sprechtgesang as much as anything, but when it came to defining finely etched portraits of desperate characters in this game called life, few could match his keen attention for detail, coupled with a compassion for all of the pain and tumultuous emotions those who populated his songs were going through. He was no doubt a talent to watch, but what got it all across in spades was the superb music that the rest of the band wrote and played.
The often shimmering blend of guitars and synths was just about a perfect approximation of the New Wave sound as I could have hoped for in the unremittingly grim year of 1994! This music was informed by the same things that I had loved but was not receiving much of that year. That it had lyrics that could bear paying attention to was astonishing. Long time keyboardist Candida Doyle contributed much to the songs in a very supportive way. Hearing this album was like taking hits of pure oxygen after being submerged in water. For about five years. Hearing this album was like coming home to a place you actually missed.
It was the next year when their magnum opus dropped. “Different Class” remains an astounding example of songwriting that hits all of the marks for me at the top of the scale. The songs blended compassion and biting sociopolitical commentary, all backed up with fantastic swirls of music that were a perfect antidote to the alternately drab or mechanical environment surrounding it. Never moreso than on the simultaneously brilliant, scathing, and heartbreaking single “Common People.” A switch in my head flipped about a decade ago, after nine years of being merely amazed by it, and I subsequently cannot hear this one to this day without weeping for the pathos it engenders in me. The righteous anger and disdain in Cocker’s voice as he addresses The Man [in the form of a girl] is riveting to me. It’s a complex cocktail of emotions he’s juggling here and he does it with an electric verve that leaves everyone else in the shade. Poised for stardom, Pulp’s stock went through the roof with this album’s release, and rightly so.
The next album was the pitch black vibe of 1998’s “This Is Hardcore.” One can’t imagine a darker comedown from the previous album’s dizzy heights as Cocker turned his questioning anger on himself and his response to the success that had [finally] been laid at his feet after years of toil. The album is as emotionally unsettling as its cover fully implies. Its scant moments of lightness were absolutely necessary for a listener to make passage through its many deep abysses. The band lost a member during pre-production when violinist/guitarist Russell Senior opted out; citing the material as lacking.
The band regrouped in 2001 with the warmly orchestrated “We Love Life” with cult icon Scott Walker producing. It was a strong move from the sickness that permeated the previous album and it revealed that Cocker had healed considerably in the interim. When it suddenly became the final Pulp album, it made a kind of sense that they could bow out on this level. The music had a sound like a benediction; warm and humane after the relative self flagellation on previous album.
I have maintained a large but incomplete collection of Pulp singles, with loads of CD singles as well as a few 12″ singles in there somewhere. It’s not complete, but that is a long term goal. As for the early years of bitter struggle, I did buy “Freaks” in 2001 and found it unpalatable; an immature pupal [pulpal?] version of the band with none of the sauce that I ate so heartily from 1994 onward in evidence. The first and third album remain unheard, but the evidence was there that by 1992, and the band’s turn on Gift Records, that their juices were reaching a compelling maturity. I have the “Pulp: Intro” CD of singles released just prior to “His “n” Hers” and find it to be an excellent collection; clearly showing the path forward for the band. By that time they had committed the brilliant “Babies” to the single format and it announced that here was a group to reckon with.
I love the first Jarvis Cocker solo album. Tacked onto the CD was a hidden bonus trackthat just happened to be the best song that Cocker has ever written apart from “Common People.” “Running The World” pulls no lyrical punches whatsoever in surmising what’s exactly wrong with human society, yet is still bracing in its forthrightness. I need to get the second album “Further Complications.” I miss Pulp terribly. For almost a decade they had the exactly correct blend of word and music that made my engine purr like it was gulping 93 octane. There was sufficient variety in all of their mature records to satisfy without alienation. Lots of great B-sides and rarities. And ultimately, a brace of songs that took me places that no other bands dared to in the 90s. Or the 80s, for that matter!
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