Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pulp - His 'N' Hers - 1994

Pulp had been kicking around since 1981, but for all intents and purposes, their 1994 major-label debut, His 'n' Hers is their de facto debut: the album that established their musical and lyrical obsessions and, in turn, the album where the world at large became acquainted with their glassy, tightly wound synth pop and lead singer Jarvis Cocker's impeccably barbed wit. This was a sound that was carefully thought out, pieced together from old glam and post-punk records, assembled in so it had the immediacy (and hooks) of pop balanced by an artful obsession with moody, dark textures. It was a sound that perfectly fit the subject at hand: it was filled with contradictions -- it was sensual yet intellectual, cheap yet sophisticated, retro yet modern -- with each seeming paradox giving the music weight instead of weighing it down. Given Pulp's predilection for crawling mood pieces -- such effective set pieces as the tense "Acrylic Afternoons," or the closing "David's Last Summer" -- and their studied detachment, it might easy to over-intellectualize the band, particularly in these early days before they reached stardom, but for all of the chilliness of the old analog keyboards and the conscious geek stance of Cocker, this isn't music that aims for the head: its target is the gut and groin, and His 'n' Hers has an immediacy that's apparent as soon as "Joyriders" kicks the album into gear with its crashing guitars. It establishes Pulp not just as a pop band that will rock; it establishes an air of menace that hangs over this album like a talisman. As joyous as certain elements of the music are -- and there isn't just joy but transcendence here, on the fuzz guitars that power the chorus of "Lipgloss," or the dramatic release at the climax of "Babies" -- this isn't light, fizzy music, no matter how the album glistens on its waves of cold synths and echoed guitars, no matter how much sex drives the music here. Cocker doesn't tell tales of conquests: he tells tales of sexual obsession and betrayal, where the seemingly nostalgic question "Do You Remember the First Time?" is answered with the reply, "I can't remember a worst time." On earlier Pulp albums he explored similar stories of alienation, but on His 'n' Hers everything clicks: his lyrics are scalpel sharp, whether he's essaying pathos, passion, or wit, and his band -- driven by the rock-solid drummer Nick Banks and bassist Steve Mackey, along with the arty stylings of keyboardist Candida Doyle and violinist/guitarist Russell Senior -- gives this muscle and blood beneath its stylish exterior. The years etching out Joy Division-inspired goth twaddle in the mid-'80s pay off on the tense, dramatic epics that punctuate the glammy pop of the singles "Lipgloss," "Babies," and "Do You Remember the First Time?" And those years of struggle pay off in other ways too, particularly in Cocker's carefully rendered observations of life on the fringes of Sheffield, where desperation, sex, and crime are always just a kiss away, and Pulp vividly evokes this world with a startling lack of romanticism but an appropriate amount of drama and a surplus of flair. It's that sense of style coupled with their gut-level immediacy that gives His 'n' Hers its lasting power: this was Pulp's shot at the big time and they followed through with a record that so perfectly captured what they were and what they wanted to be, it retains its immediacy years later. -AMG

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