Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sink or Swim

In February of 2012, Fire Records reissued the 1983-1992 output of Pulp, again. They included some bonus tracks. However, this is the only song (if not recording) to be added on that was previously unreleased. “Sink or Swim” is an outtake from It. Like the songs from that album, it’s dominated by soft crooning from Jarvis. Unlike those other songs, there’s a prominent synth part, making it something of a bridge between the sound of the band’s first Peel Session in 1981, and the sound of the band they would become in the ‘90s.

Although “Sink or Swim” is a pretty mellow affair, it shares key elements with more immediately gripping Pulp songs. In a 1994 interview, Jarvis summarized the song’s theme as “standing on the threshold of life.” Maybe in a quiet way, this is Jarvis’ vow to avoid an easy conventional life, diving instead into uncertainty for the sake of art, and his dreams. Like, say, “Countdown” or “Monday Morning,” it deals with the struggle and fear that comes with trying to live a worthwhile life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

That Boy's Evil

Some of Pulp’s greatest songs are b-sides: “Blue Glow,” “Seconds,” “The Professional.” Then there’s this. Easily the most disposable of the This is Hardcore offcuts – if not of Pulp’s entire b-side oeuvre – “That Boy’s Evil” is basically a very low-rent Fatboy Slim impression, with a big beat supplemented by (probably sampled) ‘60s-style guitars, as a unidentified woman’s voice intones the title phrase every bar or so. There’s also a rather pointless interlude filled with snippets of conversation. It’s probably no coincidence that the band did not include this song on the deluxe edition of Hardcore. But at least it has some energy, and some novelty, so it’s not the absolute worst Pulp b-side. No, we’ll get to that soon.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coy Mistress

If I’m not mistaken, this is Pulp’s shortest song, at 1:27. It’s also one of their strangest. Backed by churchly organ, occasional xylophone bursts, and crashing explosion sounds, Russell Senior recites a slight rewrite of some verses from Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress.” Recorded in 1984, the song only appeared on two mid-‘80s compilation cassettes. “Coy Mistress” is one of the band artier, more obtuse explorations of the time period, although it’s curiously devoid of the miserablism that characterizes so much of the rest of their output during this era.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

His 'n' Hers

I can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about this song. “His ‘n’ Hers” is the last track on The Sisters EP, which I tend to consider Pulp’s crowning achievement, actually.

Has anyone combined salaciousness with raw human need as well as Jarvis does here? The song is a bump-and-grind epic that also expresses all sorts of unvarnished terrors, most prominently the fear of a boring, staid existence that feels like a death sentence. Like many Pulp songs of this era, this kind of existence is expressed as life in the suburbs. But is this line equally a swipe at Morrissey? I’m frightened of James Dean posters.

The band is on top-form here: Russell’s spaghetti western guitar; Candida’s organs and synths, alternately bubbling and sea-sick; the unerring drama of the Mackey/Banks rhythm section. At the conclusion, the song rises to an almost unbearable crescendo that then ends abruptly. Awesome.

This TV performance is an absolute classic, with an amazing Jarvis monologue. On Pulp’s reunion tour of 2011-2012, the song has so far only been performed once, at the very first show of the tour, in Toulouse, France. Here’s a clip.