Monday, December 6, 2010

Pulp - Separations

Separations (1992) ***1/2

Pulp's recorded output feels like either the buildup to Different Class or the hangover from the success of their magnum opus.  Pulp had been around since 1983 but were at this point only beginning to establish their sea legs as a band making memorable music.  The musicscape feels smaller than it would in 1995, and not just because the indie budget makes the music sound dinky, particularly the keyboards which are almost unbearably Casio-cheap; the songs themselves feel smaller.  Not that Jarvis Cocker isn't painting on a widescreen; every song is an attempted epic, flush with melodramatic flourishes in the singer's delivery and swooping musical backdrops.  And backdrops they are, for as with all of Pulp's albums, the music while certainly not an afterthought is secondary to Cocker's lyrical preoccupations.  Thus the songs this time out, concerned almost solely with typical pop song tropes concerning romance failed and yearned for, are smaller in stature than the sweeping panorama of the modern British way of life found on Different Class

Not that, as you can see from the grade I assigned it, this isn't a very good album; with only eight songs, however, it can't help feeling a bit miniature, a warm-up for more fully fleshed Pulp albums.  The concision can be a virtue, as there aren't any bad songs, except for the title track where the Fiddler on the Roof violins seem overripe.  Pulp are not a band that you look to for concision, though; Cocker's vision works best on a broad palette.  The album's twin centerpieces are located in the middle of the album.  "Countdown" swishes reminiscently of Gloria Gaynor's disco classic "I Will Survive," as a teen glued to Top 40 radio wanders down discos and alleyways in search of some unnameable obsession.  The sound that Pulp's music aims for - the half-lit electric glow of an urban centre at 2 A.M. after the clubgoers have emptied for home - finds fruition in "My Legendary Girlfriend," that earns its pretensions of cinematic sweep.  "She's Dead," also deserves mention as an unusually moving and disconsolate ballad of romantic regrets.   The house inflections of "Death II" and "This House is Condemned" were probably already dated at the time, but are fair songs nevertheless.  Despite the atrocious production, which hurts synth-pop more than guitar bands (this kind of music is supposed to sound big, not dinky and dated), the songwriting is strong enough to rise above the presentation.

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