Pulp - Freaks

by Aidan Rylatt Rating:6 Release Date:2012-02-13

Ask your average man on the street to name you a band that was part of the Britpop scene and you'll generally get one of two responses- Blur or Oasis. Undoubtedly, these were bands that really meant something to their fans, inspiring devotion and, at times, unrestrained hero worship. While these two were arguably the most successful bands to be associated with Britpop, there are plenty of other bands whose mere names conjure up images of the British flag, Doc Martens, and a youthful Tony Blair: Dodgy, Menswear and Elastica.

Supergrass, another band associated with Britpop, used to sell merchandise stating that they were 'Everyone's second favourite band' which rang true - a great band, but hardly likely to inspire devotion or hero worship. Pulp, on the other hand, belong in the Blur/Oasis camp of being the kind of group who are their fans' favourite band. Although certainly associated with Britpop, Jarvis Cocker et al always seemed at odds with the 'party hard and get rich' ethos of other bands lumped into the scene. Pulp, despite some phenomenal success, are often seen as a band for the outsiders, the thinkers, (hell, seeing as it's staring us in the face) the freaks.

It is surely this devoted fanbase, along with the success of last year's reunion gigs, which has prompted the re-release of Pulp's first three albums, It, Freaks, and Separations. For although Pulp went on to create three of the finest albums of the '90s (His 'N' Hers, Different Class, and This is Hardcore), the re-release of these albums can perhaps be categorised as 'fan only'. As a look at the roots behind Pulp's future works, Freaks is of interest, but on merit alone it comes nowhere near the heights the band would later reach.

Following on from the bright 'n' breezy It, Freaks couldn't be much more of a contrast. This is a dark album, full of tales of pain, anguish, and paranoia, or as the album's subtitle puts it: 'Ten Stories About Power, Claustrophobia, Suffocation, and Holding Hands'. Cocker's lines are often delivered in a stark monotone to match the sheer darkness of the lyrics. 'Being Followed Home' is about exactly what the title suggests ("Hear him swear as he stumbles and falls behind me/ Down another cobbled street, footsteps bouncing off the walls"); 'The Never-Ending Story' deals with sado-masochistic themes ("One touch and it lives again/ He keeps it alive to be part of its pain"); and 'They Suffocate At Night' details the collapse of a once-happy relationship ("Those memories of love/ Love/ So sad to see/ To see it slowly die").

The music often seems to reflect the darkness of the lyrics, with the instrumental backing often focussing on driving rhythms, such as on the organ-led 'The Never-Ending Story', and the out-of-control feel of 'Fairground'. 'Master of the Universe' bears more than a passing resemblance to Joy Division's 'Leaders of Men', only without quite managing to match the stellar musicianship of Bernard Sumner's guitar playing and Peter Hook's driving bass. It is, in fact, musically that Freaks falls short, with the main exception being 'Anorexic Beauty', a lovely song that also contains one of the best lyrics on the album ("The girl of my nightmares/ Brittle fingers and thin cigarettes, so hard to tell apart"), despite not actually being written by Cocker.

Freaks, then, is not the album to buy someone who has yet to get into Pulp. If they happen to be a morbid little fucker, Freaks still isn't the album for them - that would be 1998's This is Hardcore, an underappreciated dark masterpiece. For established fans of Pulp who are interested in exploring the roots of Pulp's sound and Cocker's lyrics, Freaks is not without interest. Those expecting more than an interesting curiosity, however, are best off looking elsewhere.

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