On 20 February Fire Records will reissue It (1983), Freaks (1987) and Separations (1992).
Britpop has been retired for some 15 summers now. It showered itself in glory for two bright years but the fame became too powerful and Britpop eventually swallowed itself whole, omitting the painful stench of excessive flatulence as it went.
However, sat slippered and bloated in its easy armchair, it can look back with pride on some of the cheeky scamps it spawned; mouthy chancers who could write glorious pop songs with verve and wit. And at the heart of that family is the bastard child called Pulp. The gangly, gawky interloper who finally found a home and friends in the mid 90s. But for Pulp, the story had begun long, long ago.
Three is not the magic number for Pulp. The band’s fourth album, His ‘n Hers, finally propelled them from the wings where they’d waited for 16 years. Most bands would have given up long before. But then most bands don’t have a Jarvis Cocker at their heart. And Jarvis Cocker’s strange and beguiling heart beats throughout the band’s first three albums.
Perhaps in light of Pulp’s recent comeback, Fire Records has decided to reissue the band’s early back catalogue: It (1983), Freaks (1987) and Separations (1992). Some of the tracks previously appeared on Countdown: 1992-1983, which Cocker compared to a “garish old family photo album” on its release and urged fans not to waste their money.
Like the awkward teenager, whose skin is too taunt for misplaced bones, Pulp needed time to grow into themselves. So it’s fair to say that, on their own, neither of these reissues is a pop classic. But then it can be fun flicking through old photo albums.
It is a collection of folky, whimsical portraits, all summer haze in the daisy parks. Cocker’s love of Scott Walker shines through on tracks like My Lighthouse and Wishful Thinking. And there are vocal mirrors reflecting the inflections of Morrissy. The acoustic arrangements are sparse and the lyrical honesty is a world-apart from the word-played wit that became Cocker’s calling card.
Jump forward four years to 1987 and Cocker has collected a new set of musicians, including Russell Senior, who would become an integral part of the band. Senior expanded Pulp’s sonic range, giving Cocker the scope to travel through darker landscapes. On Freaks his voice has changed, from the earnest wonderings on It, to a brooding, half-spoken, half-sung delivery, telling tales on the seedier underbelly of suburbia. The album is a midnight fairground ride, ringing with carnival chords borrowed from The Doors and an art-school ethic straight from the Velvet Underground.
By the time Separations was released in 1992, three years after it was recorded, Pulp already had pop gems including Babies and Lipgloss in their set. The album can’t match the band’s evolving songwriting skills and it never quite reaches the claustrophobic heights of Freaks. However, the first half showcases Cocker’s growing confidence and lyrical mischief: Don’t You Want Me Anymore contains the fantastic line “I’ve never seen you look as ugly as you did that night”. The second side of the album is an experiment with acid house stylings. It never quite works but did spawn the brooding frustrations of My Legendary Girlfriend.
Pulp fans will lap up the reissues. However, the albums are also well worth exploring on their own terms, especially Freaks. They contain all of the pieces that Pulp would eventually meld together; humour, pop-eared radars, delicious hooks and a kitchen sink disposition. Some bands were born and died within the confines of Britpop. Pulp were much too smart to implode. Their roots stretch back to 1978 and the strange teenage visions of Jarvis Cocker. Exploring those visions across a changing landscape is time and money well spent. All three albums have been remastered and repackaged and come complete with bonus tracks and liner notes from Everett True.
Colour in Silence, by The Ambience, to be released digitally on Brigadier Records.
Before the mid/late eighties gazing at shoes was the domain of the shy, the guilty or the fashionistas. Then, with My Bloody Valentine blazing the way, a clutch of young men and women took to conducting sonic experiments, with reverb, echo and delay, so complex that eyes, at all times, had to be glued to a blur of feet and foot pedals.
If the musicians had to gaze at their shoes, then audiences were mostly gazing at the stars, floating away on dream-soaked vapour trails played at ear-melting volume. In a few short years My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive and The Verve left indelible footprints in the minds of many young fans. And then rock and fizzy Brit pop kicked the gentle souls aside and those who gazed at shoes were mocked and then forgotten.
Or not quite forgotten, as Colour in Silence testifies. Album opener Falsifier sets the tone, with glistening guitars, chiming chord changes and a freedom to break beyond the confines of verse, chorus monotony. Influences are clear, as a buzz saw action closes the track with all the verve and love of Kevin Shields at his tremolo best.
My Legacy simmers as The Ambience build layer upon layer, before exploding into storms in heaven. Their ability to heighten the intensity of a groove, without shifting key or tempo is reminiscent of The Verve’s early material and the middle section of the album has the footprints of Wigan’s finest all over it.
The Ambience also have the ability to nail magnetic, melodic hooks that linger long. Closing track Love’s Attendant Traumas is a great example. There’s nothing wrong with a stadium-sized chorus when it’s not weighed down by rock ‘n’ roll clichés and on Love’s Attendant Traumas the band combines subtle arrangements and swirling pools of reverbed orchestration with a loud and proud refrain that wouldn’t be out of place under a Wembley sky.
The album will soon be released digitally on Brigadier Records. Be one of the first to know when and get a sneak preview of My Legacy.
Cherry Red Records has released The Leaves’ 1967 album All The Good That’s Happening; previously unavailable on CD for two decades and never released outside of America.
From south to east and west to west, then back again. So the cyclone went in the early sixties. It carried blues and rhythm to New York, spun across the sea, casting rare vinyl nuggets on the shore of Liverpool and, in a mop-topped whirly gig ripped back across the ocean and through the heart of LA.
By the time it reached the pacific edge there was blues, rhythm, folk, pop and star-spangled freedom strewn in its wake. The universe-bound youth seized the tidal yo-yo, sought residencies at the Go-Go and forged some of the mind-melting foundations of American psychedelia. For The Byrds, The Doors and Love this was their time, a time they made timeless. But, in the wake of any cyclone there is debris and, Sunset stripped, The Leaves withered and fell, just a year after tasting the chart-tipped rays of success.
The band started as a rhythm and blues party band but hit the big time in April 1966 with a fuzz-wigged version of Hey Joe. Hip and tripped on this high, with a Whiskey residency and faithful hearts in the city of angels, they recorded All The Good That’s Happening. It A-bombed as fingers hovered and, when founding member Jim Pons left to get happy together with The Turtles, the band died.
However, All The Good That’s Happening is, in part, a fantastic testament to all the musical good that was happening from 1965 to 1967. Opening track Twilight Sanctuary reflects the close-knit harmonies and country-folk-tinged airs that gave wing to The Byrds. While One In The Middle is a R‘n’B standards work out…and great fun.
This isn’t a testament, however, to why The Leaves fell. Third track in, On The Plane, has the haunting progressions and chilling lyrical tones that powered Love’s Forever Changes. Like Arthur Lee and his charges, it’s documented that The Leaves dabbled with nature’s resin. The influence of which can be felt with giddy-slept ears on side two of All The Good That’s Happening.
With None Shoes chops and jangles with litho-cut intent, while Codine is musically as clear at the rising sun but wrapped in the midnight claws of self-abuse and lament. The album closes with Lemmon Princess and its sinister opening command, “Play.” Wonderfully confused, ambiguous and sonically fried, the track is close to the Mad Hatter’s tea party edge of British psychedelia . It hints at what may have been had the LA waves not been carrying the portents of political unrest by the time The Leaves released their sophomore album.
Buy now direct from Cherry Red Records
Listen to Lemmon Princess
This week American alternative rock band Low released their ninth studio album, C’mon, on Sub Pop.
Whispers in hushed corners. A shine of recognition in soft-set eyes. And then the conversation moves on and all that’s left is a beer-soaked commitment to delve into Low’s back catalogue. Sadly, beer-soaked commitments often evaporate. So Low continued to serenely fly below my shoddy radar. Until now. A lame excuse for Low fans who want to know how C’mon sits within a career spanning 18 years.
The band took flight in an indie scene where maximum volume and chainmail riffs were king. They decided to put themselves to the sword by turning down and playing with minimal arrangements, delicately stitched around simple and lilting chord patterns. At gigs audiences began to chatter with growing impatience. Low responded by turning down even more. In the alternative rock scene of the 90s, this was akin to putting your head on the block.
But gentler souls in college-yard towers heard the call and opened their hearts. Low blossomed and have been shivering spines with slithers of musical beauty ever since…so the story goes. And listening to C’mon, it’s an easy story to believe.
Opening track Try to Sleep is a chiming lullaby that is the moon-lit precursor to the Velvet’s Sunday Morning. The melancholy harmonies of husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, as they sing “You try to sleep but then you never wake up”, have the power to gently fracture the heart.
Sparhawk’s edgier delivery has the thrust and bite of Nick Cave and Roky Erickson and is offset by Parker’s ethereal, dew-sprung tones. The two alternate vocal duties, striking out on their own before returning and intertwining with ivy-wrapped power.
Sparse arrangements are given room to soar, let loose by the natural reverb of the high-vaulted church the album was recorded in. $20 is drenched with the warmth of this space, as the album winds down to a slow-motion intensity.
Lyrically the album is introspective, laying vague snow-crunched footprints to tales of fragile emotions and naked-heart love. For songs that are layered with such slow-burning passion, it feels natural that the topics they cover are the oldest in the book.
Low fans have had to wait four years for the follow-up to Drums and Guns. C’mon is the beguiling, beckoning finger that will temp them, and new converts, into the world of a band that write, sing and play from the core of their feelings.
Visit the band’s website for details of their US and European tour, that begins on 14 April.
Listen to Try to Sleep.