Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Born to Cry

This song can be found on the soundtrack to the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts rom-com Notting Hill; but only on the UK version. And, oh yes, the song is not heard at any point during the film Notting Hill. What else do you need to know? Pulp’s then-touring guitarist Richard Hawley receives a co-writing credit on this song with the band, and you can hear glimpses of his subsequent, well-regarded career as an Orbison-esque balladeer. Listening to “Born to Cry,” you can also tell the band was between the heavily produced This Is Hardcore and the slightly more organic We Love Life. It’s certainly not the most distinctive, idiosyncratic song Pulp ever wrote, but you can feel Jarvis work through the power-ballad clichés, just so he can deliver his ode to the chronically morose: “Darling, you and I/ We were born to cry.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

She's Dead

Another lush yet grim ballad, one that catches the band in something of a transitional period. The execution is more expert than something like “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes),” yet we’re not quite in the polished, near-bombastic territory of, say, “Sylvia.” The band’s not at the point yet where they can afford a real string section, but the synthesized backing just makes the song more poignant, symbolic of something that’s nearly obtainable, but just out of reach. Herein, Jarvis mourns over a broken relationship so thoroughly that it doesn’t matter to him whether she is in fact deceased or just out of his life. It’s all the same to him at this point.

Monday, March 24, 2008


At some point, Jarvis grew to regret writing this rallying cry of a hit single. The curdled after-effects of Britpop-era celebrity rendered this song hopelessly naïve in his mind. He so disliked this song that he pointedly left it off the band’s 2002 Hits compilation, causing a minor kerfuffle amongst some die-hard fans. Of course, I think he doth protest too much. Not only is “Mis-Shapes” a genre-defining anthem and perfect album opener, but it’s also filled with some real melancholy. I’ve always heard a desperate catch in Jarvis’ voice on lines like “Oh, we weren’t supposed to be” and “Brothers, sisters, can’t you see?” When he delivers the chorus’ pay-off line – “We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of/ That’s our minds” – for the last time in the song, he’s followed by a dying synthesizer squall, as it to signify that there’s much, much more to this story. And indeed, the rest of Different Class goes on to show just how uneasy young adulthood can get for even the most defiant of nonconformists.

The story doesn’t end there. At some point in the 21st Century, a popular New York DJ night called “Mis-Shapes” began. I have no concrete evidence of my own, but in some circles the night has became fairly synonymous with hipster douchebaggery. For good or ill, the photograph book commemorating this night features some text from Jarvis, who DJed there along with Steve Mackey early on. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that victory can be pulled from even the most dire of events, and maybe all this will have softened Jarvis’ stance towards the song “Mis-Shapes” by the time Pulp launch a reunion of some sort.

Watch the video for the song here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Inside Susan

The second part of the Inside Susan song series – part one was covered here. The title song, if you will, is another peppy, synth-driven pop song, this time serving as backing for one of Jarvis’ spoken monologues. He writes about teenage parties and make-out sessions with sense of sadness. By now, we’re getting a sense of Susan as someone with a promise that is never adequately realized. But overall this isn’t one of his most compelling stories, with a few metaphors that uncharacteristically go clunk.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tomorrow Never Lies

I’ve spent my share of time trying to distill the specifics code that make a perfect Bond theme. It’s not an exact science, I’ve figured that much out. You need to pay respect to the classic Bond motifs created by John Barry; but any fool knows that. It’s the other elements that are slightly less tangible. For example, you can be reverent towards Bond music, while being tongue-in-cheek towards the whole Bond persona. Additionally, your song needs to sound great coming after the chase sequence it is inevitably following – to that end, you should either try to amp up the excitement further, or provide a dramatic change of pace with a luxuriously unfolding ballad.

Of course, I’m not exactly unbiased, but Pulp proved their mastery of the above, plus a whole lot more, with their submission for the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. They go the ballad route, but it’s the kind of swelling, vaguely operatic affair that sounds perfect coming after a ski chase-turned-seduction-scene, or however the hell this one opened. Listening to the song, you practically see the title credits projected on a woman’s torso. Jarvis’ lyrics slyly celebrate Bond as a defiant man who triumphs against the insurmountable and deadly odds through a mix of undeniable skill and devil-may care outlook. In a less specific light, though, he could just as easily be singing out about another misfit who’s ready to think of oneself in terms of grandeur, which makes this, thematically, a classic Pulp song.

It also came in handy, since the song was rejected by the Bond people. According to Wikipedia, a dozen artists were invited to audition a Bond theme. In addition to Pulp, some fairly off-beat artists participated, including St. Etienne and Marc Almond. In the end, the producers chose the safest, most internationally famous artist, Sheryl Crow. Undaunted, Pulp made a simple tweak to the title and used it as a b-side. On the deluxe edition of This Is Hardcore, you can find the band’s demo with the original title.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Someone Like the Moon

Candida’s slow, simple organ repetitions sound like Phillip Glass gone glam. Appropriately for a song about night, the music is twinkling yet mysterious, evocative of a half-light that renders things only partially visible. The lyrics find Jarvis in kitchen-sink mode – if nothing else, His ‘n’ Hers is the band’s most suburban album. Another sympathetic portrait of a lost, broken-hearted woman, “Someone Like the Moon” takes an opposite tack from a song like “Lipgloss.” Both songs are strangely uplifting; but while “Lipgloss” merges dead-on observations with soaring, upbeat pop, the more meandering melody of “Someone Like the Moon” pays respect to the mysterious, intangible aspects of life’s drudgery.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Thanks to the breezy melody, cheesy arrangement, and nasty but rather half-hearted lyrics, you can’t help but think Pulp just needed to get this song out of their system during the Different Class writing sessions. After all, they’d committed themselves to making pop songs as succinct and unpretentious as possible. “Paula” – which of course was abandoned after the demo phase – sounds like they were still on their way towards mastering the genre. Who knows, maybe this song got Jarvis thinking about a girl he once knew named Deborah…

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Master of the Universe

While possessing an energy that’s more focused than most Freaks tracks, “Master of the Universe” still leans heavily on goth overtones. Still, glimmers of the Cocker wit show up here (“I am the Master of the Universe/ And I’ve got so big it hurts”). In later interviews, Jarvis would point out the incongruousness of the song. “I liked writing ‘Master of the Universe’ while being on the dole and not being the master of anything at all,” he told MOJO Magazine in 2003. “It was the winter I’d fallen out of the window – I was stuck in a wheelchair and my mother’s watching Lovejoy. So it had a certain grim humour.” That explains the S&M imagery of the song, as master morphs into debased servant. The song was released as a single in a “sanitized” version with toned-down lyrics. (Most notably, the word “masturbates” became “vegetates.”) That is the version that serves as the sorta-title track to the compilation of mid-‘80s Pulp singles and b-sides.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Theme from Peter Gunn

“We’re going to attempt to play a cover version, which we’re not very good at usually.” With those inspiring words, Jarvis opens the band’s set for a radio concert commemorating John Peel’s 40th year as a broadcaster. He goes on to introduce the song as a favorite of Peel’s, but instead of Pulp’s version of “Teenage Kicks,” we get this skewed yet rocking interpretation of the classic TV theme. The rhythm section, led by Richard Hawley’s expert rendering of the opening rockabilly riff, keeps things tight and rocking, allowing (presumably) Jarvis and Candida to deconstruct the song with noisy, trashy synths. I think you can also hear Mark Webber pluck out some electric piano parts early in the rendition before unleashing inspired splurges of abstract guitar riffs.