Tuesday, March 04, 2008

freaks - pulp

Pulp are mostly famous for their brillantly observed paeons to the marginalised, the outsiders who drift along on society's margins wryly looking in and revelling in the irony that being 'normal' is either overrated or as strange as the freaks are accused of being. Such traits were formed early, however the dry humour which characterises albums such as 'His and hers' and 'different class' appears to have been a later addition. Whatever humour there may be is buried deep in 'freaks.' Take the first song 'fairground.' Here the fun usually associated with eating too many sweets and candy floss and feeling sick after going on the rides and shooting at silly plastic ducks in return for an evil incarnation of zippy in a red dressing gown is tainted with a hideous hysteria, reminiscent of those fears that enabled Stephen King to create an evil clown (It) and convinced fellow Sheffielders Human League to sing about the 'circus of death.' Russell Senior intones in his flat voice the horrors of the specimens in jars he has dragged his sister to see (a dog with two heads) whilst Jarvis and the rest of the band shriek madly in the background. This is 1980s Pulp, a far remove from their shiny 90s incarnation. Tales of madness, malfunctioning relationships, melancholy and claustrophobia, exploitation and dismay abound. Jarvis alternates between Scott Walker type crooning ('I want you', 'they suffocate at night', 'don't you know'), cold and distant ('master of the universe'), frightened/frightening ('I'm being followed home' / the 'never-ending story') and plaintive ('there's no emotion', 'life must be so wonderful'), his knack with a lyric already evident in the sketches he draws. For the most part the music serves to echo the narratives that are built through the songs, such as 'being followed home' which reaches a crescendo as the narrator is chased down a 'cobbled street' that stinks of piss and fish (you have to love Jarvis for the incidental details he furnishes us with), or the simplicity of slide guitar and keyboards for the ballads like 'don't you know' which captures its fragile beauty perfectly. 'The never-ending story' is the total converse of the soft 80s pop-porn of Limahl and nameless female singer, tribal rhythms bizarrely reminiscent of the Rite of Spring and so sounding completely unlike anything else you can imagine, rising and falling with the tale of a (surprise) malfunctioning relationship where the male protagonist is treated / treating with utter contempt. After the intensity 'Freaks' is closed with another tender ballad, even if the sentiment is anything but tender - 'Festering in silence, growing in the dark... and this they saw as love' Oh dear love is evidently a tragic subject in Pulp land if you haven't already noticed here and for ever after. But it has a gloomy reality about it - 'she met his wishes, he found that he had changed his mind' and it is difficult not to be affected by Jarvis' wounded howling as the song winds to a close, backed by squalling violin and a gentle lullaby-like plod. Overall its a schizophrenic album, seemingly unsure what to do with itself and terribly traumatised as a result, but somehow endearing in its desperation.