CUT YOUR HAIR AND GET A JOB: PULP
30% polyester, 50% crimplene, 20% velour. 100% brilliant. What they lack in natural fibres, they make up for in scathing wit, pin point putdowns, thrilling highs and a search for the truth that can be deceptively affecting. Sleazy, sardonic and specialising in their own brand of pulp friction, here are Jarvis and co’s finest moments.
10. My Legendary Girlfriend
It took an age for Pulp to break through into wider public consciousness, but it feels like they had started to perfect their own world by the time they recorded this in 1989...and then they were left hanging around for a couple of years waiting for the rest of us to catch up. The first couple of minutes of “My Legendary Girlfriend” sounds like it’s half spoken in a feverish, throbbing dream, before the fever breaks for the chorus, (“Good God!!) and we learn all about said girlfriend. Whether she’s an imagined piece of fiction or a lusted-after but unobtainable goddess…maybe we’ll never know.
9. She’s a Lady
1994’s “His’N’Hers” is Pulp’s greatest album, and it’s here that Jarvis Cocker really gets to flex his infatuations out with wonderfully sleazy takes of voyeurism and obsession. “She’s A Lady” is a propulsive and brilliantly constructed tale of love and lust for a mysterious older woman (“selling photos of herself to German businessmen’). The sly details that run through Pulp’s catalogue are on display, but there also a genuine lovelorn desperation in the cry of “Where have you gone?”
8. Last Day Of The Miner’s Strike
There’s a hangdog, sing-a-long vibe to this homage to South Yorkshire mining communities that sounds partly euphoric, but mostly – and exhaustingly – defeatist. Spanning the middle of the decade, from 1983 (“People marching, people shouting/ people wearing pastel leather’) to 1987 when “socialism gave way to socialising”, it claims that “once again the North is rising” whilst sounding anything but a celebration. The ghost of The Battle of Orgreave hangs in the background (“overhead the sounds of horses hooves/ people fighting for their lives”) to paint a picture of quiet defiance colliding with brutal reality.
7. Pink Glove
Underneath the air of suburban sexual shenanigans, there’s a romantic beating heart that stops a lot of these tracks from just being sly, sleazy nudges and winks. The role playing of the object of Jarvis Cocker’s affections wearing something pink and tight for someone else is offset by the sadness in his voice when he states “I know you're never going to be with me/But if you try sometimes then maybe/ You could get it right first time'"
6. This Is Hardcore
‘This Is Hardcore' (the album) documented the comedown of all comedown’s from the Britpop years, and the title track is very much the sound of someone ”losing the plot”.
It takes the seediness of previous tracks and strips away the playful cheek, exposing everyone to the hard reality of sexual obsession (“leave your makeup on/ and I’ll leave on the light.”). It also reflects on the fallout from fame and the caricature he became as Jarvis asks “What exactly do you do for an encore?" As a glimpse into the whites of someone’s eyes, it makes for fascinating – but not easy – listening.
5. Disco 2000
Because it’s a dance floor filler, it’s easy to underestimate how brilliantly observed ‘Disco 2000’ is from the "woodchip on the walls" to the "fountain down the road." The loving homage to early 80’s pop, as ‘Gloria’ is replaced with ‘Deborah’ (Deb-o-rah) is a brilliant hook, and there’s a slight whiff of role reversal in the final lines as he pleads "you can even bring your baby", hinting at a life of put-upon single motherhood and some poor life choices. Excellent and very funny video too.
A high watermark in the narrow genre we’ll call “voyeuristic songs about hiding in wardrobes.” This has got a brilliantly light 70 swagger about it, and is a mini short story all on its own, in the depiction of adolescent longing, coming of age sexual experiences and the impossibly enticing lure of older sisters. Fantastic.
3. Cocaine Socialism
Every great band at some stage throws away a track as a B-Side when it’s screamingly obvious it should have been a single in its own right. “Cocaine Socialism” is Pulp’s. And in fact it was destined to be a single in 1998 but they got cold feet on the basis that they couldn’t face another “drugs scandal” tabloid furore (a la ‘Sorted For E’s and Whizz’) and they thought it sounded too similar to “Common People”.
Shame, as it’s a brilliant take down of that mid 90’s cokey confidence when Tony Blair “read” the NME, skulls were encrusted with diamonds, chart battles were front page news and socialism became a dirty word. As Jarvis deadpans “Now let’s get down to the gist/ Do you want a line of this?/ Are you a socialist?” complete with theatrical sniffs, you know exactly what he thinks about pop stars pressing the flesh with Prime Ministers.
'Razzamatazz' was voted the fourth best indie single of all time by some worthy music website who's name escapes me. Usually, chin stroking music criticism leaves me cold, but this makes me want to go..."What? Only fourth!?" From the wrong-footing first line onwards ("The trouble with your brother is he's always sleeping...with your mother"), this is a scabrous tale of revenge from a dumped boyfriend who deliciously points out the error of his ex's ways. It's brilliantly blunt ("You started getting fatter/ three weeks after I left you") and viscous in its contempt ("Are you gonna go out/ Are you sitting at home, eating boxes of Milk Tray?") . And even when there's attempts at being nice, it simply twists the knife in further ("I saw you at the doctors waiting for a test/ You looked like some kind of heiress but your face is such a mess.") All set to a jagged, nagging piano that taunts its subject.
This was the last single they released before signing to a major label and finding genuine success, and it feels like less of a full stop, than a perfect introduction to a fully formed "PulpWorld".
From fourth best indie single to....the single of the 90's. It's still the most scathing, damning working class protest song of modern times...an accurate riposte to cultural tourism and the middle classes slumming it in the quest for cool, All cloaked in a towering chorus that pin-pointedly reflects the desperation of huge swathes of society.
"She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge/ She studied sculpture at St Martins College" is one of pop music's great opening lines, succinctly telling you everything we need to know about where we are and where this is going. It's as simple and as brilliant as "You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar." Maybe there's something in the Sheffield water. Later in the song, when Jarvis Cocker spits "You will never understand/ How it feels to live your life/ With no meaning or control." the doors of the barn are literally blown open. Thrillingly monumental.