Pulp - It

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2012-02-13

A proper reissue of Pulp's early albums has been long overdue. For the serious Pulp fan, the constant overlooking of the band's early efforts and the whitewashing of their history is not a little infuriating. You can understand why it might make sense to the recently reformed band themselves: The Pulp who produced the band's first two albums, It and Freaks, were an almost entirely different outfit. In fact, where It is concerned, we're basically talking about Jarvis Cocker's first solo album, released under the name of his recently split schoolboy band. Third album Separations, meanwhile, was delayed for so long by Fire Records that by the time it was released Pulp had moved on to a different label, manager and level of recognition.

So marred was Pulp's early story by frustration and failure, you can appreciate why they don't particularly see the point in looking back. If as far as the majority of listeners are concerned, Pulp sprang fully-formed into the pop charts with the re-release of 'Babies' in 1994, then so be it. This attitude may be commercially practical, especially for a band which frequently focuses its energies on knocking out crowd-pleasing festival sets, but it also smacks of embarrassment. In particular, you suspect Jarvis probably cringes when made to recall the gauche, lovelorn lyricism of It or the existential indie-boy angst of Freaks.

Well, he shouldn't. There's something really endearing about the fact that Jarvis did his growing up in public, even if the public largely didn't want to know at the time. Listening to this remastered, bonus track-enhanced re-release of Pulp's debut, it's clear that Jarvis was both a pop star in waiting and a rounded songwriter from the off. He may have become famous for his pervy lyrics and libidinous hip-trusts, but initially Jarvis' concerns were of a far more innocent and romantic sort, and It should not be judged harshly because its lyrical expressions of unrequited love and schoolboy infatuation are a little, shall we say, jejune. I mean, it's not as if the 19-year-old Jarv set out to make a sex-tastic odyssey of suburban lust and synthetic fibres and somehow ended up making an album packed with sweet-natured odes to oblivious girls. No, he waited until His 'n' Hers to get his sex-jacket on and then he did just that.

In fact, Jarvis' apparent unwillingness to look back is something of a testament to Its effectiveness in summoning up the world of a bored young man aching for exciting times he can't quite envisage with fascinating, sophisticated women he never seems to meet. Songs such as 'Wishful Thinking' and 'Looking for Love' perfectly capture a sense of longing which feels completely genuine, showcasing the young Cocker's songwriting nous. On 'Love Love' he's even astute enough to recognise that it's the idea love itself which obsesses him rather than any specific girl and to put this epiphany into song.

Its failings, then, are more cosmetic then anything. Too often Simon Hinkler's production, which favours a 'tasteful' backing of acoustic guitar, piano, accordion and brass, feels lightweight, making Cocker's lyrical concerns seem trivial, whereas, as every teenager knows, unrequited adolescent love feels like the end of the world. This miss-selling of Its subject matter is the album's major problem. What young Jarvis' words need are shade, subtlety and sensitivity. Thankfully, they get this in abundance on the album's standout moment, the gorgeous piano ballad 'Blue Girls', on which Jarvis' lyrics circle a scene of social embarrassment, delivering arresting images of flaking skin and surprised faces without ever telling us the full story.

'Blue Girls' hints at a possible artistic direction which was never fully explored, that of Jarvis Cocker the tortured balladeer. It was a role he would toy with for the next few years but decisively cast off after the dark psychodramas of Freaks. Meanwhile, the expertly observed slap 'n' tickle he would come to trade in is scarce on It, but it can be found if you're paying attention. 'Wishful Thinking' features Cocker moaning that "Distractions cannot sate the need/ It grows once more/ It grows once more". Hmmm. Then there's the wonderful whimsy of first track and single 'My Lighthouse', in which Jarvis invites the object of his affection into the safety of his big phallic tower. "It may seem strange/ to talk of love and then lighthouses/ It's not strange to me." Over the coming years, Jarvis would begin to make sense of such associations.

Ultimately, to paint It as a false start isn't entirely unfair, but it does ignore what this album has to offer. It is not in any way an embarrassment. Rather, it's a strong start from a shy but talented young man who isn't really getting the backing and support he needs and who doesn't quite understand what his gift is. However, that lack of assurance is entirely appropriate for the songs on the album. Like looking back at your first love affair, It may be a little cringe-worthy for its maker, but that's only because it so perfectly captures a special time in his life.

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