Monday, December 07, 2009

Jarvis Cocker is coming (pun intended): thoughts on some Pulp songs

The ’90s. If you can remember the ’90s you were probably there. I mean, that is a pretty good indication you were and I got no reason to call you a liar.

Of course, it is possible you had false memories implanted by some evil government body as part of some sort of depraved brainwashing experiment.

Regardless, if you remember the 90s you will remember Britpop.

It was one of those media-invented fads that took a range of English bands reasonably popular around roughly the mid-90s that, to one degree or another, played some sort of variety of catchy indie pop and/or rock music (sometimes with heavy overtones/outright plagiarism from British bands of the 60s and 70s) and invented a grab-all term to describe them.

This was all bound up with attempts by British “New Labour”, along with the media, to create a strange myth called “Cool Britania” on which to ride into government so they could slash the remnants of Britain’s welfare state and invade a country or two — like in the old days.

Some of Britpop was forgettable, some not bad, a lot of it compares rather favourably to the even less original, tired hackneyed sounds being vomited from the radio these days.

And some of it was Pulp.

In short, to summarise, Jarvis Cocker, former Pulp lead singer, is a fucking legend and he is playing in Sydney tonight and Carlo Sands is going to fucking see him.

Pulp were the greatest band tarred with the Britpop brush. A combination of irresistible indie pop with Cocker’s highly stylised dramatics, utterly unique dance moves, and largely sordid (and frankly often disturbing) lyrics

No one else came close.

In Pulp, Cocker told dramatic, deeply felt first-person stories of ordinary people trying to survive life in late monopoly in its the death throes.

Which is to say, the lanky, bespectacled art-school-style attired Cocker sung about sex and drugs.

Especially sex.

To which he added angst.

No one has ever combined such lustfulness with such angst over the consequences who was not an ordained Catholic priest or perhaps Morrissey.

All coated in a highly ironic wit and performed with *those* dance moves.

Since Pulp’s demise, Cocker has released two solo albums. On the most recent, Further Complications, Cocker simplifies his lyrical style.

That is, he drops all the messy broader background and social commentary stuff and gets straight to the heart of the matter: sex.

It is an album of rock songs about a middle-aged man and his relationship to sex.

With classic Jarvis lyrics, like: “I met her in the museum of paleontology. And I make no bones about it. If you're looking for a dinosaur, I know a specimen whose interest is undoubted.” (“Leftovers”)

And, “Well, if every relationship is a two-way street, I have been screwing in the backseat while you drive”. (“I never said I was deep” — well, he didn’t)

Yes. Jarvis’s latest effort deals with the topic less as “sex as a metaphor for class society and the inherent alienation of the working class in late monopoly capitalism”, and more “I'm a middle-aged man, what else do you expect?”.

“Leftovers” goes on to make the point clearly: “I wanna love you whilst we both still have flesh upon our bones. Before we both become extinct.”

So before enjoying a live show featuring songs dealing with that sort of raw lust and sexual desperation combined with some truly stunning dance moves, I thought I would look back on on Cocker’s days with Pulp, and ask what was the best song?

My aim was to offer choices, with commentary, divided according to album. I planned stick to picking two or three songs from the three key Pulp albums, 1994’s His’n’Hers, 1995’s Different Class, and 1997’s This is Hardcore.

But I have run out of time. So I will post this with two songs from His’n’Hers.

This is the most appropriate — as it is really the songs I found time to talk about that truly capture the depth of angst-ridden lust that he has made the centre of his new album.

I will save for another time my commentary on sex-as-a-metaphor-for-class-struggle in Different Class, and sex-as-a-metaphor-for-emptiness-of-fame-and-success in This is Hardcore.

His ’n’ Hers

This is the album, from 1994, that started to make Pulp’s name in Britain, and not without reason. A brilliant combination of catchy pop tunes with often savage lyrics by Jarvis on the society around him (especially, but definitely not exclusively, in the minutia of the bedroom), it clears that path for the breakthrough Different Class.

Babies: “Well it happened years ago”. A classic teenage tale. And we have all been there. Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Boy goes to girl’s home.

Discovers girl’s older sister has boys in her room. Hides in the wardrobe to spy.

Boy gets caught and “has to get it on”. Boy gets sprung with older sister by younger sister. Loses younger sister. Which is a shame because boy’s feelings toward younger sister are: “I want to take you home, I want to give you children.”

Now, who among us can honestly say we have not experienced the exact same thing?. Those who claim it, I declare liars!

The key to the song is the contrast between the somewhat sordid lyrics of teenage lust and confusion with the amazingly brilliant, catchy pop tune.

I mean, if Jarvis was to just read those lyrics spoken word, it would be pretty fucking creepy... And so it is.

Key lyric: “I know you wont believe it’s true, but I went with her coz she looked like you!”

Watch it here.

Do You Remember the First Time?: “Do you remember the first time? I can’t remember the worst time.” No prizes will be handed out for guessing the what he is on about.

Here, Jarvis introduces what is a recurring theme in some later songs, an affair with a married, or otherwise accounted for, woman.

Again, what might be somewhat tacky is made by its contrast to the sublime pop tune it is put to. The tune works to undercut, and is ironically contracted with, the growing bitterness of the lyrics.

Cocker starts out ironically disdainful at the mundaneness of the married life of the woman he is seeing, but a sense of despair at the emptiness of the affair and his own life grows through the song.

It starts with this put down on her main relationship: “You say you got to go home, coz he’s sitting on his own again this evening. And I know you're gonna let him bore your pants off again. Oh now it's half past eight — you'll be late.”

And by the end of the second verse, Cocker has switched to a bitter envy: “Well, at least there is someone there that you can talk to. And you never have to face up to the night on your own. Jesus, it must be great to be straight.”

This shift from a stand-offish irony and to deeply felt bitterness is a Cocker trademark, later perfected in “Common People”.

Key lyric:“Now I don’t care if you screw him. Just as long as you save a piece for me.”

Watch it here.

* * *

Now I must go and see Jarvis Cocker live. I will offer you this below. It isn’t about sex. But it does give a pretty good introduction to his stylish dance moves.

Carlo Sands will be up the front tonight shouting “Play ‘Eye of a Tiger’ and do that dance!”


  1. let us know if he wore the cape

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    There was no cape. Jarvis was none-the-less brilliant. It is hard to imagine anyone putting in more passion and emotion into a line like “the parents are the problem — giving birth to maggots without the sense to become flies”

  3. Brilliant. I will now consume a bottle of Tequila and re-read the post to see what I think then. I will be watching Jarrvis viseos as I do this..... giving birth to maggots without the sense to become flies” Classic.