The band Pulp hasn’t existed for quite some years now, and by the time their long-time bassplayer, Steve Mackey, died earlier this month, he was much more than an ex, having other careers as a producer, photographer and more.
Among those who benefitted from his knowledge and wit were Florence And The Machine (reviewed here last week in case you didn’t know ), Arcade Fire, Spiritialized and M.I.A..
Nonetheless, his contribution to the best years of the Sheffield group is a significant legacy, including bringing some rhythmic excellence to their other qualities. As in my favourite Pulp song, Babies.
And he had style in a band that shouldn’t have but somehow did possess it in spades. Something that was clear when they toured Australia in 1998 at a time when men in Australian rock bands still thought being “normal blokes” who just happened to get on stage was the only way to be.
They probably thought Pulp’s frontman, Jarvis Cocker, was a weirdo, and the band’s turn to a darker tone, weirder still.
Wind Back Wednesday has another view on that.
Enmore Theatre, September 28, 1998
IN NOVEMBER the Todd Haynes film Velvet Goldmine will put flash and dash front and centre again with a thinly disguised tale of David Bowie and the English glam scene of the early '70s. If glam was, as some argue, the shallowest trend of the shallowest decade, does its comeback - along with stack heels, cod-science fiction storylines and freebased glitter - suggest artifice is the trend of 1998-99?
If so, there is hope that Pulp might be the ones putting the art into artifice. While Jarvis Cocker makes do with a shiny spiv suit (just a tad too small) and sandals instead of spandex and make-up, Pulp are as glam as you can be without the costumes.
Romping chords and high drama appear frequently, the ghosts of Roxy Music permeate the more dramatic moments and there are times when Pulp relive the last echo of glam, Bowie's Scary Monsters album of 1980. (It's no coincidence that Pulp have a track on the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack which could well pass for a period original.)
Cocker delivers his narratives with a dry knowingness, but his dancing style seems to be Elaine Benes out of Iggy Pop, styled by Bryan Ferry. In other words, his body jerks itself in the approved Elaine "full body dry heave", interspersed with Pop's wristy flourishes and spasms and the occasional arch pose of Ferry in his lounge lizard phase.
Somehow, through this Cocker manages to be louche but not lewd, languorous but not decadent, amusing but not ridiculous. Maybe he gets away with it because of the babydoll mouth or the slightly myopic eyes (he has ditched the big frames) but more likely because he is smart enough to do it without overdoing the irony or the campness.
Not that smart always helps. Having moved away from the catchy but “disposable” jaunty pop songs which peppered their most recent albums, Pulp have found the sales heading south. But the full benefit of their darker muse is clear on stage. Seductive Barry was delivered as a moody bump and grind, like a slow strip where nothing comes off.
It's a companion piece to This is Hardcore, a slightly soiled, vampish noir soundtrack which revels in its suggestion of seedy nightclub backrooms, cheap sex and cheaper wine. While the grand gestures of a Sylvia and the stomp of A Little Soul are the more obvious winners, Pulp were at their best when lolling in the dank rooms.