The cover art for “The Sisters EP” features an image by airbrush artist Phillip Castle. Castle was also responsible for the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” as well as the cover art for David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane”. Could there have been a more perfect choice for Pulp? Soaked in the grime and the glam of 1970’s Britain like no other band and yet still fiercely modern this was a match made in Heaven. The image is, clearly, working on two levels (at least) with a nod to the world of pornography and advertising at the same time. This duality of meaning is a recurring theme in the work of Pulp as a band…playful melodies and sing-along choruses hide the darker subject matter from the casual listener.
Famously the EP features “Babies” a song which had already been released to nationwide indifference back in 1992. Despite failing to chart at that point it seemed that the band remained convinced of its potential to connect with a wider audience. The growing interest in, and significance of, Britpop in 1994 provided a chance to see if they were right.
In the house behind the one where I lived between the ages of 4 and 10 years old there lived a family who had two daughters; Shona and Wanda. They were older than me. Old enough to find a little kid endearing but not so old as to find him irritating. Occasionally they would invite me into their garden or home to play for a while.
It was the seventies so the sun was always shining.
I can see it all very clearly still.
Wanda has suggested that we play hide and seek,
I have to seek.
I can’t be much older than six?
I count to ten…or twenty…or a hundred.
“Ready or not here I come”
I climb the stairs to their bedroom to see if they are hiding under the bed.
As I turn to leave I notice something odd about the louvre doors of the built in wardrobe.
Something is poking out from between two of the slats.
I step closer to see what it is.
I still can’t be sure.
I step closer still.
It’s a tongue.
It is Wanda’s tongue.
I feel a bit funny.
I reach out my hand and, with one finger, I touch it then run home.
That’s what I think of when I listen to “Babies”.
You can make your own mind up about what that might mean.
What you don’t need to spend a lot of time trying to work out is whether or not Jarvis Cocker is a bit of a mucky pup…he is. Like some sort of shamed voyeur with his neck distended from peering over the top of the garden wall or from behind his sitting room curtains at the lives and loves of the people on his street. That makes him just like me…it might even make him a little bit like you? Other people are fascinating and other people’s emotional and sexual lives are even more fascinating. Cocker taps into that belief that the grass on the other side might be, if not greener, then certainly a little bit fruitier.
“Your Sisters Clothes” provides (yet more) evidence for his obsession with the peeling paint and dropping knickers of the people next door or around the corner.
“I never thought that you would come,
Your sister said your nerve had gone,
You’re trying to make it straight right now,
But I don’t think that you know how.”
When I was fourteen a girl in the year below asked me to meet her in the park at seven that night.
I don’t remember her name, or what she looked like.
I knew I wasn’t allowed to meet girls in the park though.
It was verboten.
Good Mormon boys and girls didn’t go out on dates until they were sixteen…and even then they should be group dates with other Mormon boys and girls. A rendezvous in the park for a kiss and a cuddle by the swings was, to be blunt, a sin.
I didn’t care.
I didn’t catch they eye of enough girls to be able to turn my back on this opportunity.
“Is it alright if I go to the park to play football?” I asked my dad.
“Of course. Do you want a lift along?” he replied.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll just walk.” I said.
I headed off to my bedroom to get ready.
I pulled on my best jeans…probably stone washed.
Then a good jumper.
Finally, a pair of grey slip on shoes.
Like Adrian Mole but…worse.
It genuinely didn’t cross my mind that none of this was appropriate clothing for a game of football.
“See you later” I said as I prepared to leave.
My dad had clocked the outfit and shouted out to me just as I was about to pull the front door closed…”I might come along to watch in a bit.”
I closed the door and started to walk to the park.
At some point common sense overtook my teenage lust and I turned around and headed back to my house.
“Back already?” my dad asked.
He wasn’t angry.
My bottle had gone.
Other kids would have simply tried to front it out or call their parents bluff.
“It’s easy when you stop pretending that you just got lost on the way” sings Jarvis.
That’s what I did the next day at school.
Pretended I had got lost on the way.
Nobody believed it.
“Seconds” is like a Britpop version of Mike Leigh’s “Sweet Sixteen”. All painful, near brutal, honesty and a forensic glimpes into the lives most ordinary. Out of that ordinariness though comes something…extraordinary. “It costs so much to look this rough” is the best description of life on the edges you will ever hear. The emotional cost, the physical cost, the financial cost. The seconds in the title refers to the passing of time but also to a life of seconds…second hand clothes, second rate existence and no second helpings.
At some point in the mid eighties the company my dad was working for went down the tubes. A decision was made to start up a new business. That wasn’t going to happen overnight and so a period of a life of seconds began. One night, as I was walking home from school, a boy in my class called Euan McInnes followed me. He didn’t live anywhere close to me so what he did required time and effort. I was wearing trousers that were too short…not so short that we could afford to replace them right there and then but short enough that a boy who hadn’t ever had to wear trousers that were too short noticed.
“Has your cat died?” he whispered behind me.
Not just once.
Over and over again.
Always loud enough for me to hear.
Again and again.
My trousers flying at half mast.
The tears came slowly but when they did they came thick and fat. Streaming down my cheeks…cheeks that were scarlet with rage and shame. I was humiliated. I wanted to turn around and beat him to the ground…beat him into the ground. I didn’t because I couldn’t.
The closing track on the EP is “His ‘n’ Hers” which is a sexy, “Carry On…”, hilarious, mundane and extraordinary tale of the terror of domesticity and the hope that it can be avoided by shoving it in sideways.
Soap on a rope.
His ‘n’ hers towels.
Sex on your birthday.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The fear that you feel over figurines is perfectly normal…if you are abnormal. If you are listening to Pulp…no, if you are hearing Pulp, really hearing what they are saying, then you are abnormal. Morrissey said there was no such thing in life as normal…but he was wrong, there are normal lives and lots of people are perfectly happy with them.
He says after a day in a job he hates and from a place on his IKEA chair with his wife and daughter sat close by.
I’m no freak or outsider.
Not on the outside.
Are you the same?
All the trappings of ordinary but somewhere, deep inside, a weirdo, a freak, an “it”, lurks and, all too infrequently, shows itself and scares the neighbours.
I thought so.