Sunday, August 14, 2011

Party Hard

The missus bought us tickets to see Pulp at the Horden Pavilion a couple of weeks ago. We only seem to see bands from the 90s these days. Admittedly she goes out to see a wider range of artists but I just can't be arsed. An insufficient number of rock venues offer table service. Middle-aged griping aside, Pulp soundtracked my early adulthood and their songs generate an range of responses in me as emotionally conflicted as the songs themselves.

My first exposure to them was back in the summer of 1993 when I saw them perform a trio of sweaty-palmed ditties on the telly. They were odd bunch. The guitarist and bass player were duking it out in some kind of "sexycool rock perv" competition under the careful gazes of the drummer and keyboardist. The guitarist with his flicky hair and occasional violining and Travolta-esque stances. The bass player grinding away at his instrument like he's just been released from solitary confinement and it's the first welcoming thing his groin has encountered. In most other bands, either would have been within groping distance of victory. However, both were doomed to runner-up status in the "sexycool rock perv" stakes by the antics of their singer.

Jarvis Cocker's stage presence was/is unique. Simultaneously warm and confronting. One minute cracking jokes with the audience (entertaining us, charming us, seducing us, the minx) and the next, ludicrously enacting his songs with high kicks, poses and the witchy waggling of his fingers. His whole, lanky body seems to consist of joints. Lyrically, he's obsessed with sex and relationships - with a preference for the grubby, dysfunctional and ill-fitting. It's a mark of his skill that he can fashion memorable stories from such a limited palate. And two of Pulp's most memorable songs (the two highlights of the evening for me) are not about sex so much.

Common People did include the offer of sex but it's a vitriolic anthem about the rich slumming it, about class, about getting it wrong and about being an outsider. Everyone in this song ends up an outsider: the girl from Greece who fails to fit in, the common people who watch their lives slide out of view, and the narrator himself - who may be called "common people" but doesn't relish that trajectory at all. And yet in indie discos across the land it became a communal anthem, feted by exactly the kinds of people that it mocked.

Sorted for E's and Wizz was another song narrated by someone on the edge of things, another outsider. This time it was the 80s/90s rave scene that gets pulled apart in story. The communal myth of the party ends and the narrator is left in field, alone and ****ed up. It's not an anthem, it's a queasy come down of a song.

Pulp's sound and Cocker's lyrics are consistently and deliberately "ill-fitting". Not quite right. This put them apart from their Britpop peers. Pulp could never write an anthem as vacant as Wonderwall or as calculating as Girls and Boys. For me this makes them all the more loveable.

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