Saturday, January 14, 2012

Melody Maker
, May 1987

by Paul Oldfield

"FILE between Ian McEwan and Charles Hawtry," concluded one reviewer two years back, leaving us to tease out what that "between" is. Pulp are easily underestimated as ghosts from the Ealing or Hammer studio lots, standard bearers of the English-ness and depthless drollery we'd usually expect from El records.

The word "freak" comes nearer to their connection of comedy and horror: it suggests what's aberrant but recognisable, a source of laughter and shrinking fear. Even if Jarvis Cocker's vocal delivery brings Pulp within sight of It's Immaterial or The Fall, it's the crepuscular ballads, always bordering on histrionics, of Sixties godlike genius Scott Walker that are the nearest precedent.

Everyday life assumes the shudder of the uncanny in "Anorexic Beauty", where the ashen-faced and comically immobile mannequin girl exercises this dreadful attraction, comes too near beauty. In "I Want You", love is a catastrophic immolation. "I'll throw myself away, I'll break you because I love myself in you". In "They Suffocate At Night" intimacy develops till it wraps itself in polythene sheets, becomes exhaustion and vacuum, and "The Never-Ending Story"'s juggernaut Khachaturian refrain mimes endless reprieves for a failed love-affair.

Far from eccentric, Pulp's pasteboard theatre finds the freak limits of behaviour amid life's parking meters, bed-sits and milk floats of mundanity.

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