Album Review: PULP – ‘HIS ‘N’ HERS’

I’ll be honest right from the start.  I’ve drunk a fair bit of wine.  So much so that my fingers look like lightning across the keyboard.  A FrEnZy I tell thee!!!!  Ha ha!!!!

London is burning.  The rioting is spreading.  Don’t get me started on my feelings about the cretins involved in this mindless nonsense!  All I hear on the news channels is people sticking up for the behaviour of these idiots of society.  Well… as people in my own city plan their own riots (for possessions you understand… looting for POSSESSIONS… there is no political ideology on display here!!! 😐 ) I shall sink into the deepest recesses of music.  You will all know me by now.  You will know I can ramble.  Well… I have precisely one hour to put some thoughts onto the interweb.  This will be stream of consciousness stuff so expect wrongness.  And inconsequence!

What comes to mind then…. I mean to write about.  Hmmm.  More wine first vicar!

How about a ‘discussion’ of an album.  Hmmmm.  What album though.  I get the feeling that in my time with you – and I hope it will be years – I will discuss a huge variety of albums!  Rubber Soul seems the next  ‘apt’ album to discuss in terms of my recent road trip.  Or perhaps a punk album, maybe the Sex Pistols in light of the riots.  Or the Kaiser Chiefs… clever blokes 😉

No… I shall write about an album that is important to me.  An album that changed my life – for a while.  Perhaps for ever really. His ‘n’ Hers by Pulp.

Back-story.  I was well into rock music in my youth.  You could even go so far as to call me a ‘metaller’.  Ha ha!  Seriously… I was well into my Sabbath, Maiden, Aerosmith etc etc ad infinitum.  That wasn’t a problem.  I enjoyed it.  It was important to me.  Then along came grunge.  And grunge changed everything.  So much so that I’m sure I’ll write some entries about certain grunge albums in the future!  I started a band.   I drafted in someone I met at school.  He approached me one day with an armful of grunge albums and lent them to me no questions asked.  He’d just moved into the area and I’m sure it was a way to make a friend (the guy with long hair and a leather jacket was probably the safest bet for him!!!).  Ha ha!  Anyway… I did indeed borrow those albums… and I loved them.  I think it was stuff like Nevermind and Ten, pretty mainstream really…. but do you remember those times – were you even born then?!?  It was refreshing.  It changed the landscape of music.  Me and ‘the guy who lent me those albums’ became great friends.  Hmmm… perhaps warrants a new paragraph?

So we started a band.  I claimed I could play the guitar.  Well, compared to him and his mates I was like a flippin’ guitar hero.  Ha ha!  What we needed was a bass player… so he bought a cheap bass.  I taught him to play it and a band was in the making.  He went on to become a really great bass player, perhaps I’ll get a cheque in the post one day!  Ha ha!  No, seriously, that guy had talent and we actually made a great partnership.   I went to Uni and converted a couple more people to my cause.  A keyboard player (who I at least converted, if not actually taught, to play the guitar) and a drummer.  We were a punk band I suppose.  Punk in as much as we couldn’t play… but also punk in as much as I was well into the Pistols and the Buzzcocks at the time.  And elements of Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, came into play.  Nirvana… remember Nirvana?   The frightening thing is that some people genuinely think that Dave Grohl is just the front-man of the Foo Fighters.  They don’t even know he was the drummer of a really important rock band?!?  But that’s just the way of the world.  Isn’t it?  Memories fade.  And sometimes memories are poured onto a computer screen when one is drinking wine!!!

So I was a rocker in a punk band.  I was rocker in a punk band with all the trappings.  Easy.  Very easy.  Then Brit-Pop happened.  I was slowly converted to the likes of Blur and pretty much instantly to the likes of Oasis.  It’s difficult in hindsight to remember how totally game-changing “Definitely Maybe” was at the time.  It not only created a band wagon but it created the biggest band and the very biggest wagon!!!  Seriously… you should have seen the size of the wheels!?!  You needed to clamber up a 6 foot supermodel’s shoulders just to reach the cab!  Ha ha!  So my band at the time graduated to the title of “indie pop band” – as did every other band of the day!  All bands became Oasis!  We started to hang out in indie clubs.  Perhaps I’ll tell stories of those times one day.  But we enjoyed our particular brand of insulated imaginary fame!  Ha ha! Then I heard a song.  I cannot remember where it figured exactly in the time line.  But it was probably on Top of the Pops, or in the indie clubs.  I heard the song “Babies” by Pulp.  Babies.

That kind of changed everything.  That one song.  I was converted instantly.  This band was a revelation.  Even just to look at – they were extreme.  A weird mix of modern and complete nostalgia.  David Bowie, disco and Brit-Pop.  A gangly front-man….. a girl playing the keyboards – and an angelic sound.  As with the other bands of the time it’s hard to listen to the music now and recognise the dynamite, neon-flamed abuse of the senses that erupted at the time.  They were extraordinary.  Completely.  So much so that I can still taste the first few times I heard that song on my tongue.  I still remember the first time!  😉  And I have an infamously bad memory!!!  The song “Babies” is a track from an album called His ‘n’ Hers by a band called Pulp.  Now… if I was going to be ‘cool’ I’d actually big up their previous album, “Separations”  – another magnificent album.  But, I have to be honest with you my faithful readers, this is a confessional site and His ‘n’ Hers was in many ways my confessional album.

The album was actually a huge way into Pulp’s career… and yet it feels like a debut album.  Actually strike that… it feels like a reboot.  In the same way that Nolan rebooted Batman and all the superheroes are currently receiving reinventions, Pulp recognised what worked and what didn’t from their past – and started again from square one.  The violins and the electronics are still there. The moody reflection and autumnal tones are still very much in play.  But Pulp finally found that magical ingredient so often missing before – a good song.

The album kicks in with ‘Joyriders’.  A track which to this day I still remember all the words to.  I just love the way the song smacks you in the face immediately.  There’s no intro.  This song signifies an album with straight-ahead intentions.

“We can’t help it we’re so thick we can’t think.

Can’t think of anything but shit, sleep and drink”

A song that seems SO relevant in the current climate of disillusionment and destruction.  People making excuses for their actions.  It’s like Jarvis is a prophet – like he should be bowed down to.  Jarvis.  Jarvis Cocker!  I DO bow down to Jarvis Cocker.  Never has someone made so much from so little.  And yet… that is unfair.  He has that certain ‘something’.  You can’t quite put your finger on it… but he has IT.  I wished I was him at the time.  Maybe I still do now!  Ha ha!

This majestic album then hits you with “Lipgloss”.  It’s at this point that you realise the lyrics are genius.  They are like a diary.  Fair enough, a diary from someone who is having a more interesting life than you.  But in any case, I certainly remember listening to the lyrics and experiencing a revelatory moment.  Songs could be SO from the heart that they BECAME the heart.  Heart and soul. Heart and soul.  ///throws up!

Acrylic Afternoons is perhaps the true highlight of the album.  This song needs to be experienced – preferably lying on your bed in a darkened room (only really an activity you can perform as a student).  I had similar experiences in that ‘darkened room’ with Portishead and Jeff Buckley, but  I’m sure I’ll talk about them another day.  Acrylic Afternoons is almost perfect.  It’s fragile… gentle.  A world away from Iron Maiden or the Ramones.  And yet in some ways infinitely more powerful.  That’s what pains me about music reviews.  It’s so easy to spout verbal shite about music.  To be all verbally dexterous with your verbiage. But the honest reality is that you just have to hear it for yourself.  You may not like it… but you have to hear it.

This diary of an album continues until we come to the song “Babies”.  A song so good I will name it twice.  Babies Babies.  I won’t say too much about this song.  I CAN’T say too much about this song.  It’s just too important.  This single, solitary song underpins everything I have ever done.  It defines Confession of the Whole School to a certain extent.  It changed my life.  Set me on a different path – it HAS to be that important.  I (wrongly) relegated all of my heavy metal albums to the bottom drawer of my wardrobe for years.  Yes… years!  Seriously, Babies had that much of an impact.  It changed me!  It still changes me.  It remains one of the greatest songs ever written.  Check out the video!  It is tongue in cheek and unpretentious (considering the vastness of the song), but it is funny and witty and defines the band.  It also features the never to be topped dancing skills of Mr Cocker!  Common People may represent the band for the masses…. but for the believers, “Babies” is the song to beat!  🙂

So… I’m running out of time. Have I even started the album review yet?  “Babies” reminds me of so much. People I no longer see and things I no longer do.  It is MY song.  And for that reason I will never allow a bad word to be said about it!

The next song on the album is called “She’s a Lady”.  This song betrays the roots of Pulp.  For you see Pulp had to deal with being a ‘band’ when being a ‘band’ wasn’t cool.  They had to exist through acid house, rave, dance and all things electronic.  They adapted.  This is more evident on Separations… but it is indeed evident here on His ‘n’ Hers too.  She’s a Lady isn’t one of my favourites, but it has its moments.  Every song on this album does.  Because this is a classic album.  This album is up there with Definitely Maybe, Parklife and Dog Man Star.  For me it is the crowning glory of Brit-Pop whilst perhaps not being Brit-Pop at all.  It is a contrary album.  So, let’s just forget She’s a Lady shall we?

Happy Endings is another torn page from the Cocker diary.  An epic of Human League like proportions.  Jarvis is just perfect.  The perfect singer who can’t sing.  As are Jonny Rotten and Alice Cooper.  You don’t have to be able to sing conventionally to win my heart. In fact I insist!  If you win the X-Factor I will disown you!  I promise.

“Happy Endings” is the companion piece to Blur’s “To the End”.  It is a magnificent song with the cutest keyboard solo ever!  Ha ha!

Then comes perhaps the stand-out single from the album.  Another song that instantly reduces me to tears.  Because it really is THAT GOOD!

Do You Remember the First Time?

I can’t remember a worse time.”

The perfect “indie”TM single.  This song, along with Suede’s whole first album, cornered the market in swirling sexual indie rock.  There was no point anyone else even trying afterwards.  “Do You Remember the First Time” could be summed up as a Buzzcocks single for the ’90s. A song the Buzzcocks, in their prime, might have written.   Sheer diary.  Sheer poetry.  Sheer class.  Sheer riff-age.  Sheer perfection.

Pink Glove continues the veiled lyrics.  The secret written word that you can’t believe someone is actually singing. So close to the bone.  Like a bloody post-mortem!  Excuse me while I nip downstairs for more wine. —- Back.  Yep… The lyrics to Pink Glove almost make me cry.  You know something’s good when you can say that.

So… all that really leaves me to talk about is the final track on the album – “David’s Last Summer”.  An epic.  A 7 minute epic.  Having now written a few epics myself I can appreciate the influence this song may have had on me.  I’ll never be a ‘speaker’ of words, I’ll always be a singer – so I couldn’t say the song is ‘vocally’ an influence. But it is certainly an inspiration.  Not one I ever think about.  But it must have had an impact on my younger self. As did a song like Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  The idea of a song as a series of movements.  The idea of words as a series of moments.  They can tie together or they can drift apart.  There are no rules.  Listen to David’s Last Summer.  There are no rules.  And yet the song totally sticks to the rules.  Its own rules… but rules nevertheless.  And so… my self-imposed time limit comes to an end.  Sorry if this ‘so-called review’ has been a little obtuse.  I should be better prepared for these things.  The old rock CDs were eventually allowed out of that drawer, and everything returned to normality.  With age comes the realisation that you don’t have to be embarrassed by the music that you love.  In fact you should do everything in your power to promote it.  Pulp can easily live alongside Wolfsbane, for example.  For although they sound completely different, there is a drive and determination fuelling all of the best bands.  Whether they do it with a bark or a gentle yap is kind of irrelevant.

Hmmmm…. a score?  You want a score?  That is very difficult.  I’m tempted to give this album a 10/10.  However there are moments of distinct 5/10… yet they are so very few and far between.  Floating, bobbing carrier bags in a glittering ocean. Hmmmm.  For me this album is close to perfection.  It is certainly dating. I don’t deny that.  And yet it was dated when it was released. Even then it harked back to the glam of  ’70s Britain.  Platform boots and singers driving into trees.  Hmmm.

PULP – HIS ‘N’ HERS: 9/10

first take acoustic track: She’s Dead.

You’ll understand, if you’ve listened to any of my music or watched any of my videos, that I am a fan of the “wall of sound”!  I have many a studio trick up my sleeve.  The videos are documenting the creation of the latest Eleventh Hour song – and it is set to be another epic.

I thought it might be fun to play with a few ideas in the meantime.  I wondered if I could just pick a song that has meant something to me in my lifetime – and record it in one take.  Just me and a guitar.  Why not?

So, I’ve plucked “She’s Dead” by Pulp out of the ether and given it a go.  I haven’t ever played or sung it before.  I don’t know the chords and I haven’t even listened to the song recently… but that makes it all the more enjoyable!  Ha ha!  And it’s one take – the first take.  With none of my usual production trickery!  Just me.  I thought this could be something I could do more often when I get a spare moment (like now where I’m waiting for Bill to send me vocal tracks).

Anyway… forgive me for singing in the afternoon (evening/nighttime is when my vocal chords are at their best!!!).

Enjoy (or not):

Do you remember the first time?

So I hear the news today that Pulp are reforming.  The ‘proper’ line-up – with Russell Senior!  A line-up that hasn’t been seen since the mid ’90s.

Pulp are a band close to my heart.  In my opinion the greatest of the ‘Britpop’ era bands (although their roots extend much further back) and an important band in terms of my own musical trajectory.  I first fell for the band when I heard babies and it skewed me in the direction of  ‘the indie-kid’ for a fair few years.  The band had a freshness and a zest of the ’70s.  I hold His ‘n’ Hers and Separations aloft as absolute classic albums.  Separations has a few misfires, so if you’re only going to give one album a go make sure it’s His ‘n’ Hers.

I went to see Pulp’s Christmas concert at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London in 1994 (I think).  An era defining moment.  It was before the release of their most acclaimed album “Different Class“, but they were already playing Common People.  I suppose that is the song that came to define them.  It’s not one of my favourites… but even back then I could appreciate that this was going to be the making of them.

There followed the decline… incidents with Michael Jackson and the usual rock and roll lifestyle stuff.  Jarvis becoming a celebrity didn’t help.   And so ended the story.  I always stick up for the memory of Pulp though.  One of the greatest bands of all time.  And it is going to be with a great sense of nostalgia that I will see that formidable line-up return to the stage.  Do I remember the first time?  Only just… but yes, I do.

a collection of found notes

Isn’t a song a great thing?  You know the feeling… when you’re young and you’re hearing all these great sounds for the first time – whether it be rock, Britpop, punk, dance, dubstep, whatever particular era you have connected with.  I’ve had a few ‘eras’ in my time!  Ha ha.  The beginning of an ‘era’ I remember very fondly was hearing “Babies” by Pulp for the first time.  Do you remember the first time?  I certainly do.  I was very much into rock at the time… and then this amazing geeky, glam style band comes on Top of the Pops (or something similar) and blows my mind.  It sounded fresh and spectacularly weird.  But intensely catchy and emotional.  Little did I really understand at the time that they were just tapping into a style that had been and gone long before – it didn’t matter… it rocked my world.  Led me into my ‘indie’ era very nicely.  I had a band at the time.  We had previously been tapping into my indie/punk/pop past… but the whole Britpop thing really swept the nation’s bands in a wave of new thinking and eventual mediocrity.

The song is an amazing thing isn’t it?  I mean… what is it?  As an entity what is it exactly?  It is a collection of sounds that can move people – make them laugh, cry, dance, get them angry (Henry Rollins I’m pointing at you!).  Some of you out there (in fact most, if the amount of dross on the net is anything to go by) are in a band these days.  Or solo.  Or a ‘dj’.  Whatever.  So… what is a song?  How does it come to be?

Paul McCartney likes to claim that ‘Yesterday’ came to him in a dream.  I can kind of believe it.  There was a time, long ago, when I had a dream that I was in a band and we had written the greatest ever song.  And in the dream I had it all, the verse, chorus, lyrics, tune, everything.  And it really was great!  When I woke up, for a few minutes I had it in my head… and it was really special!  But a cup of tea later… gone.  All of it.  Gone.  That could have been my ‘scrambled eggs’ – I mean ‘Yesterday’.  The point being that a song can come from no-where.  Absolutely from no-where. And then I phoned Jack Black and told him all about it!

So, what is a song?  One minute you have nothing.  A little later, after a bit of tomfoolery in a studio you have something that never existed before.  I sat down today with my acoustic guitar and just let my fingers stroll around the fret-board.  I pressed record on my studio desk and within 5 minutes I had the foundations of a new song.  It didn’t exist while I was out for Father’s Day earlier… but now it does.  And it may exist for evermore (if it goes on the album).  A song is such a random event.  If your favourite artist hadn’t picked the guitar up that day.  Or if Lady Ga Ga was washing her hair that particular evening.  Or if the Wombles had been tidying Wimbledon Common like they were supposed to be in the 70s rather than hanging out with Mike Batt.  You see what I’m saying?  A song is a tragic chance of a missed opportunity.  The greatest song I could ever have written may have been conceived a couple of days ago during that dire England match.  But I chose to watch the overpaid sock puppets rather than pick up my guitar.  Thus… the song does not exist.  What is a song?  Is it something that occurs when someone can be bothered to write one?  Thank God Jimmy wasn’t going to the Post Office to renew his car tax on the day he wrote “Stairway to Heaven”!

What is a song?  A song is a hit and miss, random, never to be repeated, one-off event.  Blink and you miss it!  Blink and you miss the hit you could have written.  So what are we songwriters left with?  We are left with a collection of moments.  A collection of ‘found notes’.

A collection of found notes can change your life.  Alter your attitude to life, shape your character.  The emo kids in town huddled under the trees.  The club girls out on a Saturday night dressed as fairies complete with skimpy underwear and wand!  The metallers… the indie kids… the punks. Everyone.  Everywhere.  And all because they once heard a collection of found notes that struck a chord (literally) with them.  Found a route direct to the heart.  Formed their being.

That’s not to say you can’t then be influenced by a new collection of found notes.  You see, with Brit-Pop, although the first of the bands found a collection of notes, the bands following in their slip-stream didn’t bother.  They just re-used those notes… again and again.  And hence Brit-Pop was over.  You can also assign political reasons to the collapse of the music… but really, all music is just waiting for the ‘next big thing’ to come along and knock it off its perch.  Nirvana destroyed Hair Metal.  Oasis destroyed Rock (before then becoming it).  Something is always there to destroy something else.  Now pop is the king again.  Everyone is trying to find out what Lady Ga Ga has hidden in her pants.

What is a song?  A song is an Easter egg hidden for the kids to find.  And everyone knows the kids are alright!  When that first human first strung some sounds together little did he (I’m gonna assume it was a he!!!) know the influence he would have on the world.

What is a song?  A collection of found notes.  If someone else finds them before you do then I’m afraid you can kiss the hits goodbye.  You will be forever playing Wonderwall outside the shopping precinct.  Come on buskers… find some DIFFERENT notes!!!