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Pulp


The brainchild of enigmatic, smart-ass showman, (“the erotic coat-hanger”) Jarvis Cocker, PULP were the thinking person’s guide to Brit-pop, the antipathy of rival arena-fillers OASIS, BLUR, the grunge scene and anyone that has a chimp for a pet. Following on in the tradition of geek heart-throbs like BUDDY HOLLY and ELVIS COSTELLO, Jarvis achieved the knicker-wetting adulation he’d always aspired to through sheer hard graft and the determination of the downtrodden. Cocker’s love of the “Common People” and his disdain for Old Blighty’s “Different Class” society has motivated his crooning creations into ones of quintessential quiddity.
Formed 1978/9 by Jarvis in Sheffield, England – originally as Arabacus Pulp – while he was still attended a “different class” at The City School, the singer’s impetus for songwriting was garnered from his sister Saskia and single mother (a subsequent Tory councillor), who’d been abandoned when his father Mac Cocker left the family home in 1970 to live life as a radio DJ in Australia. Jarvis’s long road to stardom began in November ‘81 when iconic Brit DJ, John Peel invited the band (then also comprising musicians Peter Dalton, Jamie Pinchbeck and Wayne Furniss) to record a prestigious session at his Maida Vale studios.
The introduction of former/current ARTERY players, Simon Hinkler (his brother David) and Garry Wilson (as Beefy Garryo), plus Peter Boam, Furniss and a loose collective including sister Saskia on backing vox, the release by Red Rhino Records of the IT (1983) {*4} mini-LP went almost unnoticed outside the indie fraternity. Described as lush and string-friendly, Cocker’s crooning was very much in the SCOTT WALKER fashion, the opening single cut `My Lighthouse’ was just plain and simple. It was then no surprise that PULP decided to split after sophomore 45, `Everybody’s Problem’, failed to win over the critics.
PULP were reborn in 1985 when Cocker signed to Fire Records and enlisted a fresh set of musicians, Russell Senior (guitar/violin), Candida Doyle (keyboards), Peter Mansell (bass) and Magnus Doyle (drums), to perform four new songs that assumed their comeback EP, `Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) And Other Pieces’; Senior sang the MAGAZINE-esque finale track, `The Will To Power’. Unhampered by a spell in hospital (his injuries allegedly sustained after falling from a window when trying to show off to a female), Cocker utilised his short-term wheelchair as a useful prop on stage. Darker and developing the singer as a wry and sharply observant chronicler of working class drudgery and sexual frustration, his inimitable brand of camped-up showmanship was solidified on EP number two, `Dogs Are Everywhere’ in ‘86.
By the release of PULP’s first full-set, FREAKS (1987) {*4}, the quintet were beginning to move away from their MARLENE DIETRICH/The FALL hybrid to a more arty MONOCHROME SET/(FOXX-era) ULTRAVOX-type vibe. But songs such as `Master Of The Universe’ and follow-up 45, `They Suffocate At Night’, were hardly going to touch The SMITHS or The CURE for the top alt/indie-pop mantle.
To further his education, Jarvis duly upped sticks to London to take a film course at St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, and it looked like once again, that PULP was living up to their moniker. However, with the addition of fresh rhythm section, Steve Mackey and Nicholas Banks, the sleek, new-look PULP went into the studio in ’89 with producer Alan Smyth. Changing styles and Cocker’s insistence on getting with the times (the acid-house and rave generation had exploded), the resultant album SEPARATIONS (1991) {*6} took its time to hit the shops. In the meantime, a glitter-tastic `My Legendary Girlfriend’ and `Countdown’ had turned heads, not least Stuart Maconie and, in turn, the NME who made the former song single of the week.
Buoyed by the track’s critical success, PULP were encouraged to set up their own Warp Records endorsed label, Gift, through which they released a string of early 90s EPs, namely `O.U. (Gone, Gone)’, the classic `Babies’ and `Razzmatazz’, becoming critical darlings with some sections of the music press alongside fellow pop sculptors like SAINT ETIENNE and SUEDE. A collection of their work released during this transitional period, INTRO – THE GIFT RECORDINGS (1993) {*7}, showed Jarvis and his melodious PULP had finally come of age.
It wasn’t long before the crafty Cocker and crew were on the roster of Island Records, releasing their breakthrough Top 50 single, `Lipgloss’, one of the many highlights spawned from their HIS ‘N’ HERS {*8} album in 1994. Also previewed by the driving, tongue-in-cheek query of the `Do You Remember The First Time?’ single (a short film was released to tie in with the track, featuring various biz figureheads candidly talking about their “first time”), the set expertly dissected the sexual undertow of working class Britain with an incisive accuracy, mordant humour and lashings of glam posturing. The record cracked the Top 10, becoming a consistent seller and setting jester Jarvis up as a fashion icon (Bri-Nylon, national health specs etc.). Under the shield of `The Sisters’ EP, lead-off track `Babies’ was finally in the Top 20, while songs from the album such as `Happy Endings’, his Gloria Gaynor-like `She’s A Lady’ and the almost epic finale `David’s Last Summer’, cemented the group’s reputation for being smart, in its many dictionary interpretations.
The skinny singer was to become a star on the same scale as SUEDE’s Brett Anderson following the success of the landmark `Common People’ platter. A classic pop song that almost topped the charts on the back of the Brit-pop zeitgeist, the summer of ’95 single was a brilliant portrayal of the nation’s shameful class divide set to an almost 80s-style synth-led backdrop. After the headlining act dropped out, PULP stepped in to put in one of the most acclaimed performances of their career at the 1995 Glastonbury festival, releasing the DIFFERENT CLASS {*9} album that October to round off the most successful year in the band’s career.
With the social commentary as cutting as ever (the controversial `Sorted For E’s And Whiz’ was coupled with opener `Mis-Shapes’ for a Top 3 smash) and their gift for effortlessly poignant music intact (`Disco 2000’ and `Something Changed’ both hit Top 10), PULP consolidated their position as Britain’s leading exponents of home-grown pop genius. The group, who’d now added Mark Webber on guitar, proved that patience was a virtue, the starry-eyed Jarvis coming across like a modern-day MORRISSEY (or BOWIE) on the likes of kitchen-sink dramas, `Underwear’, `Monday Morning’ and `Bar Italia’ – the songs taking a “Stop-Me-If-You’ve-Heard-This-One-Before” mystique.
Now a figurehead for the disaffected youth, Jarvis ran into a storm of controversy and the stage at the 1996 Brit Awards, when he protested against “Artist of a Generation” MICHAEL JACKSON depicting a Christ-like figure on `Earth Song’ encircled by a hundred or so children; in the aftermath Jarvis wasn’t charged. A more downbeat Cocker returned (without long-time conspirator Russell Senior) late in ‘97 with the Top 10 charity hit, `Help The Aged’, while Britain awaited with much anticipation the porn-inspired concept THIS IS HARDCORE (1998) {*8} set. Another to top the charts (but nowhere in America!), the record dabbled with the darker side of fame, set to a lounge-feel, sweaty background of a claustrophobic Britain. From ominous curtain-raiser `The Fear’ to the group’s three mid-table singles (the title track, `A Little Soul’ and the BOWIE-esque and “Fashion”-able `Party Hard’), the direction taken was almost jumping off a stage, rather than jumping on it. One can hear the once celebrated NENEH CHERRY on vocals on the band’s cinematic-addled long-piece `Seductive Barry’.
Following on from the difficult “Hardcore” set wasn’t going to be easy, but with the aid of the legendary SCOTT WALKER (who took over from Chris Thomas as producer), PULP managed to issue a new album in the form of the Top 10, WE LOVE LIFE (2001) {*7}. Nearly three years in the making, the set reverted back to early PULP material such as songs found on their peak-mid-90s-period. `Wickerman’ and `The Trees’ (coupled with `Sunrise’) were both fine examples of a band that had withstood the wintry climate of the music industry and still maintained an ounce of dignity and professionalism. WALKER, who’d never produced before, made PULP sound as intriguing and as heart-felt as anything he’d ever done. It was ironic then that the quirky quintet bowed out with a `Bad Cover Version’, the name of their swansong Top 30 hit.
© MC Strong 1995-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012-Jul2020

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