PULP – His’n’Hers
Blur vs. Oasis. The Battle Of Britpop. Working class tosspots with classic rock heritage square off against the art school Mockneys with the pop tunes and the experimental pretentions. But for me, neither is the winner. Both have some merits – but give me Pulp any day. In 1994 Pulp were already something like the old men of Britpop, having preceded the genre by many years and gradually evolved into something resembling the classic 90’s sound. Jarvis and co had just about hit their stride, after NME’s ‘Single of the Week’ accolade had recommended their previous release and their disco-pop-rock chimera was by now a fully-fledged creature of its own.
What better way to kick off their breakthrough album than with ‘Joyriders’, a beautifully ordinary statement of intent beginning ‘we like driving on a Saturday night’ and meandering through Cocker’s trademark meditations on the banal failures of working-class life, made poetry by his witty, eloquent lyrics. The song is suitably driving, with sections of tender atmospheric quietness being overtaken by bursts of riffage like boy racers tearing up suburbia.
Next up is single ‘Lipgloss’, a more melancholic song with an infectious synth loop that reappears at the end as an exuberant guitar solo. Despite the lack of passion in the character’s life, the passionate lament in the vocals is ear-grabbingly real.
‘Acrylic Afternoons’ is a bassy claustrophobic fumble on the sofa, with Jarvis mumbling and yowling about children who ‘wait for their mothers/to finish with lovers/and call them inside for their tea’. The verses are delivered in a fraught near-whisper, each ending with a rather unexpected whinny, in one case sobbing ‘thankyou, thankyou’ in broken breath in a verse about… tea, before the magnificent ‘YOW!’. Then he calls a series of children with dull English names in for tea, before dusting off his moaning falsetto. It really is quite excellent.
On ‘Have You Seen Her Lately’ Cocker pleads with an unnamed female friend not to go and see an uninspiring lover, saying ‘he’s already made such a mess of your life’ with a majestic keyboard outro. ‘Babies’ is classic Pulp. Who else could write a song about hiding in your girlfriend’s sister’s wardrobe to watch her go ‘with some kid called David from the garage up the road’ – and then fucking her? Its simple, jaunty guitar melody and synth squelches are balanced perfectly by a piercing violin overlay. And ‘I know you won’t believe it’s true/I only went with her cause she looked like you, my God!’? You don’t get charm like that in the 00’s.
‘She’s A Lady’ begins with ominous synth and violin and a throbbing bassline, before Jarvis starts chanting ‘m-m-m-mao-mao, m-m-m-mao-mao’ like a Sheffield shaman, and the icy, thumping drums of the sparse verse kick in. Then there’s something about ‘selling pictures of yourself to German businessmen’, before it bursts into dance-driven life as the narrator’s lover is ‘coming back to me!’. And for some reason, ‘the moon has gone down on the Sun’, in a chorus strangely reminiscent of ‘I Will Survive’. M-m-m-mao-mao-m-m-mao-mao. There that is again. All in all it’s multi-layered and rather splendid, and would probably go down very well in seedy discos everywhere.
Sweeping strings from Russell Senior herald the opening of ‘Happy Endings’, which is a sedate love ballad, crooned in that inimitable way. It builds over a gorgeously-textured backdrop of rippling electronics and slow waves of violin, before petering out elegantly with a soft reminder that the narrator’s beloved once said that she ‘liked happy endings’.
‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ continues in the same fashion, with a resigned verse and gently insistent melody, breaking into an assured, uplifting chorus, Jarvis wailing ‘I don’t care if you screw him, just as long as you save a piece for me’. The rhythm chugs along, ending with a drill of drums, over those backing instrumental washes again, and perky synths carry the song aloft to its conclusion.
Panting over a measured, constant bass, ‘Pink Glove’ kicks off, painting a shabbily elegant picture of a former lover who ‘got it right first time’. Jarvis laments her current, underwhelming lover (a common theme), before a stirring chorus of fuzzy guitars and soaring vocals which moan ‘I realise that you’ll never leave him, but every now and again in the evening…’ Who can argue with that?
The mellow atmospherics come out in full on ‘Someone Like The Moon’, which is the most underwhelming song on the album. Quiet drums bring in a soft, minor-key chorus, while electronic elements hum miserably away behind lyrics such as ‘the radio will only play love songs, so she cries’. It’s drawn-out and going for epic, but sadly this track isn’t wholly effective.
The album closes with the jauntier ‘David’s Last Summer’, in which Jarvis monologues like a more chilled-out Phil Daniels on ‘Parklife’ through a non-sensical summer ramble involving ‘talking to somebody polish’ and a groovy keyboard part augmented by some ‘ooh-hoo-hoo-hoo’s. Everything slows down on the chorus, a comment on the brevity of young love, which stretches the song out to nearly 7 minutes. The lyrics are, as ever, both grotty and heartbreakingly romantic, and this is a large part of the band’s appeal. Hopefully history will elevate them above the petty rivalry of the Britpop scene, and acknowledge this, ‘Different Class’ and ‘This Is Hardcore’ as their holy trinity, and rank them among the key albums of the 90s. Jarvis Cocker returns this year after a 5-year hiatus with his first solo album. I expect great things.