Sunday, December 30, 2007

There Was

Tucked away as the b-side to a failed attempt during the ‘80s to sound like Wham called “Everybody’s Problem” lies a beguiling, eerily captivating piece that stands as Jarvis’ first sublime song. A waltz that sounds effortless, yet is quite rhythmically challenging when you really listen, the song also contains some of the most impressive vocal harmonies on a Pulp song, as Jarvis and his sister Saskia create a slow-building round choral that reveals a sudden complexity. The musical backing is a perfectly sparse blend of electric guitar and keyboards. Jarvis sings about an attempt to hold on to last few embers of a fading relationship. As the title indicates, the song is fixated on the past and the need to bring it back. “Don’t let it die away,” he pleads. The music seems to provide the hope he seeks, making this ballad strangely uplifting.

In 2000, “Everybody’s Problem” and “There Was” appeared on the soundtrack to something called Schooldisco, a film regarding which I can little information. But it appears that the soundtrack is still in print, if this is any indication.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Another stellar opening track. As the first song on Pulp’s first major-label full-length, “Joyriders” takes advantage of the wider canvas without ever overdoing it. The instruments, captured with newfound confidence, seem to burst out of the speakers. Jarvis’ portrayal of bored lowlifes is at first sheer mockery, but with every minute it shades into darker and darker territory. In fact, in the last few minutes, he’s mainly just repeating the same few lines over and over. But his relentless recital of stolen cars, trips to a reservoir and a tragically doomed girl – as the band’s backing gets more measured and careful – makes the song become suddenly and powerfully very sinister.

Watch a live version here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)

A seminal moment in the Pulp discography. The first release of the post-It band, “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)” unveils a new lineup with an almost wholly different aesthetic.

For the first time on record, Jarvis is supported by two key collaborators: keyboardist Candida Doyle and guitarist-violinist Russell Senior. Doyle plays what would become her trademark instrument, the Farfisa organ. (She also provides one of her rare harmony vocal performances.) Meanwhile, Senior’s art-damaged avant garde impulses make an especially noteworthy mark here; what might have been another of Jarvis’ gentle, Velvet Underground-influenced ballads is given a stark undertow thanks to Russell’s queasily amateurish violin playing.

But Jarvis too has evolved on this song. After the fey innocence of It, the sharp, grim perspective of “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)” is pretty shocking. “There’s a hole in your heart/And one between your legs,” he sings in the chorus. “You’ve never had to wonder which one he’s going to fill/In spite of what he said.” For the first time in his career, Jarvis has unveiled here his talent for a savage turn of phrase. Making the song even darker, Jarvis is singing here about his own mother, describing her pregnancy with him, which led to her marrying the father, a reportedly less-than-dependable man, and abandoning her aspirations to become an artist.

In the ‘90s and beyond, “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) was possibly the early song the band played most often. Here is a performance by Jarvis, Candida, Russell and the rest of the Different Class-era lineup on British television.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Birds in Your Garden

In some circles, it’s considered that this warm, simply melodic song should have been the first single from We Love Life. But the charms of “The Birds in Your Garden” have largely passed me by. The scenario here is seemingly ripe with potential; a Disney-like chorus of feathered friends persuades Jarvis to make his way into a would-be paramour’s pants. But there’s something mind-numbingly predictable about this acoustic-driven, sweeping ballad. The song lacks the lyrical nuance or, more importantly, musical surprises that Pulp can usually be counted on providing. It winds up sounding like little more than a rewrite of “Something Changed.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Described by Jarvis as “His ‘n’ Hers” meets “The Fear,” “Frightened” shares with the former an overriding paranoia regarding domesticity. And here, the occasional gothy chord change – occurring right between Freaks and This Is Hardcore – is used for an almost comic effect. Jarvis contrasts his fear over mundane materialism in the verses with his fear of his own raw desire. So, he’s a pretty fearful guy in the whole song, but what did you expect with that title? What really drives the song is the sweep of the melody and arrangement, pushing and pulling Jarvis from the brink several times during the song. Despite the strengths of the song, it’s easily surpassed by “His ‘n’ Hers,” which instead received release on the masterful Sisters EP.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


I always thought this would make a good concert opener for the band. It begins quietly and simply and ends with a rousing, epic finish, ushering the audience into the show. This doesn’t appear to have ever happened. Instead, “Sylvia” served as the last song of the main set during much of the This Is Hardcore tour. Shows what I know.

“Sylvia” also handily refutes Hardcore’s reputation as a morose, joyless sex-and-drugs-fest. Alright, so the song is still pretty morose, or at least a pained reflection on a failed relationship. Still, this is an unabashed power ballad, and maybe it’s a little too eager-to-please and sentimental, but there’s genuine emotion in the bombast. I heard this song once in an HMV store shortly after the album came out. It sounded oddly appropriate and even a little stirring there. There’s something especially memorable about Mark Webber’s Big Guitar Solo, which he executes with just a few notes.

There is, of course, a twist to the lyrics. Jarvis begins the song singing to a woman who reminds him of the title character. But soon enough he begins to address Sylvia directly. It entirely possible that he’s using the woman he’s just met as a proxy for the absent former lover, simply so he can say the things he was unable to tell her face to face.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Catcliffe Shakedown

Nearly seven minutes long, all of them ridiculous. “Catcliffe Shakedown” is a long narrative of working-class follies, set to some the (intentionally?) cheesiest music the band ever wrote. (Why on earth does the track start and end with Candida playing the theme to Jaws?) Most of Jarvis’ observations are not exactly subtle; although, as always, his unwillingness to glorify the less savory aspects of proletarian life is commendable. Even with the comical melody, the burning desire to escape remains palpable. Nevertheless, it’s not too shocking that the song didn’t make it onto Different Class.

Incidentally, the band’s rehearsal space resided in Catcliffe, which is a village just outside Sheffield. A good enough reason to lead you to this.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Grandfather's Nursery

As established earlier, the “Bad Cover Version” single served as the band’s swan song, in many ways. However, there were a few codas, subsequently. The strangest of these was certainly this song, not so much for the music itself, but more the event of the song’s emergence. For reasons no one seems to know, a professional-sounding 2000 demo recording of “Grandfather’s Nursery” popped up in 2002 as a free download on (Sadly, the song is no longer available there.)

What fans heard, just as Pulp was bidding adieu, was another bottomless well of melancholy. Supported by gentle tremolo guitar and glass harmonica, Jarvis devises a series of metaphors for something once flowering that has ceased to live. It could be a relationship, it could be Sheffield, it could just be his state of mind about life in general. As with “Bad Cover Version” it became impossible to hear as it anything but a eulogy for a band that felt its zeitgeist slip away. The song is as morose as anything on This is Hardcore, but in its last moments rescues redemption. Jarvis takes a sailboat to reconnect with his “true love.” (Remember, the band’s first single was “My Lighthouse.”) Finally, he imagines an opportunity for a life-giving rain, as the band enters full-force in the final minutes, with an appropriately Beatlesque guitar line sharing center stage with Jarvis’ cries of “Here comes the rain.” The song successfully alchemizes the botanical themes of We Love Life, and one could argue it’s a more effortless mix of the band’s gentle and anthemic sides than anything on the album.

Just as perplexing as its appearance, “Grandfather’s Nursery” also appeared on a 2005 Spanish compilation entitled 100% Sinnamon.