Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Like most American fans, I came to know Pulp through "Common People", their biggest hit off the Different Class album. By the time they popped up on the Trainspotting soundtrack, I was hanging out with British nannies who made sure I got a copy of the previous Pulp album, His & Hers. They told me the band had been around since the 80s New Wave movement. But that they kind of sucked for a while.
I think it's less that they sucked, and more that they were directionless and forgettable. They had some decent songs but frontman Jarvis Cocker was still writing about love and life in his twenties, which isn't nearly as interesting as the sexual voyeurism and class envy that he focused on in the 90s and early 2000s.
I bought their early hits anthology, Countdown, when it came out but...I didn't listen to it more than once. I have very different opinions about what early Pulp songs are worth a listen or two. Death Goes To The Disco is my personal compilation of their best singles, album cuts, and B-sides from the 80s and very early 90s.
It's sort of Nick Cave meets The Cure but fails to write a mega-pop hit.
1. There's a Nick Cavey bop to the first track, Don't You Want Me Anymore? It's a love song about falling in love with someone at their worst and being desperate for them not to leave him but with a weird dash of how he wants his whole home town to watch and approve. It's a slight twist on a common songwriting trope and it helps elevate this out of typical love song territory. There's a bit of growl to Cocker's voice that he smoothes out over the years. It's a shame. I like the growl. Also, there's fiddley-violin on this track that gives it a brightness most New Wave tracks lack. This could absolutely be a melodramatic ballad in an 80s Coming Of Age film.
2. I Want You isn't just an answer to the previous track's title. It's also a familiarish piano twinkle riff New Waver. It's got some fun 50s style doo-wop background vocals in some places. The lyrics start out pretty forgettable and common with some super easy rhymes but evolve more malice to them than you'd expect. A lot of love songs sound stalkery and creepy if you really listen to them, but this is In Your Face Psycho Love with actual threatens of violence if the love is not returned, all with those doo-wop bum bum bum bums in the background.
3. We pep things up with some drum machine and bleepy pop at the beginning of Death II. There's some lovely twangy bass in the background while Cocker sings about dying at the disco, and yet waking up alive and in love the next morning. It's pretty delightful. This also marks the first time Jarvis Cocker points out that he isn't Jesus Christ. This will be a theme he revisits several times over the decades, including during his biggest pop culture moments where he hopped on stage while Michael Jackson was singing "Earth Song" and mocked Jackson's martyr image. I also noticed when I was putting this together how many Pulp songs end with the word away. This track makes it 2/3 for the album.
4. There is a LOT of violin on this album. The previous track ends with a violin riff, and this track begins with another one before a whole string section climbs into the song. I swear this could be a B-Side to "Fiddler On The Roof". And then, out of nowhere, it turns into an 8-bit country western song. Seperations is an unsung howler in Pulp's discography. It doesn't sound at all like a Tom Waits song but it has hie energy. If someone told me that this was the song that inspired The World/Inferno Friendship Society, I'd 100% believe them. And we're 3/4 for away.
5. There's No Emotion has the most Cure-y lyrics on this album. There is a beautiful harmony background vocal to this song which I wish appeared more often in the discography. I think this would be stronger about how emotionless he seems, as opposed to making it about someone else. But that's a 2023 view of 198something song. 4/5 for away.
6. There's a darker hook to the strumming guitar on There Was. It has an early REM feel to it. It's a cozy stalker song about how he knows what you're thinking. You love him. You love him. He totally knows that you love him. So why don't you love him? The lyrics are way more complex than I'm giving them credit for but the subtext screams while Cocker and his background vocalists give us an entire verse of la la la las.
7. I love me a song that starts with a tight drum groove. Life Must Be So Wonderful is an unexpected but not unwelcome side hug from an acquaintance. The two of you sway from side to side to the laid back song. Maybe holding a lighter aloft. Then everything falls away but the drum machine. When the music comes back you're no longer touching, and the swaying has shrunk down to just head bopping. Cocker teases us with the last line being a way but then adds another few lines and then BOOM away! 5/7.
8. Dogs Are Everywhere is a tropical breeze about the omnipresence of the kind of people who just suck to be around. Not literal dogs, which are awesome, but cads. How they're omnipresent, and that deep down we're all dogs. It's a sweet conceit. Instead of away, we end the song with the title.
9. We bring back the circus energy for Down By The River. Something about this song reminds me of Ween. Oh dear, someone dies again in this song. Maybe don't date Jarvis Cocker. He seems to leave a lot of angry women and corpses in his wake. I was really hoping this wong would end with the water washing the corpse away but it didn't happen.
10. Ambient conversation bridges the previous track to the spare piano of Blue Girls. The flute and reverb lift this weird little song into the ether.
11. I love the flute and background vocals on Wishful Thinking but the lyrics remind me of the poetry I wrote when I was nineteen and constantly in love with bad decisions. It's not very creative, just one of those self-pitying love me love me love me why don't you know how much I love you love me love me love me songs. But the melody is haunting, so I'm keeping it on the album.
12. Uh-oh, another song about a woman Jarvis is in love with that has death or dead in the title! There were definitely some decaying "Blue Girls" in that track, too. She's Dead is less metaphorical about it, though. I mean She's dying is the opening lyric. It's got a New Wave western movie from the 80s feel. I don't know what video game this could be the theme to but I know you'd be playing it on the original Nintendo. It's also one of them there songs about how you wish you would have/could have died with the object of your love so that you wouldn't be separated.
13. Here's the title track! Another drum machine start with Nintendo theme vibes. But you can really dance to this one as Death Goes To The Disco. One of the more upbeat songs warning about the perils of overdosing on drugs.
14. We wrap things up with the lush lullaby Manon about, what else, a guy sitting in his house, and later his garden, picking the flesh off the corpse of his deceased girlfriend. You know...you know...I thought the voyeuristic lyrics from Pulp's 90s output was creepy but DAMN Jarvis, how many dead women are on this album? (Sadly, we end this album with a paltry 5/14 songs ending with the preposition away.)