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Pulp It

Over the last year Pulp reformed for a circuit of festival dates, disappointingly missing out Sheffield I might add. For a band whose existence before their first break-up spanned 20 years, it might have seemed strange to someone with no knowledge of the band that most of the songs in their sets were from the relatively narrow period of 1994- 98. But those were the years in which all of their disparate influences crystallised into something fully coherent. Thanks to Fire's re-release of Pulp's first three albums, this childhood fan has been investigating the path that led Pulp from awkward alt-pop experimentation to global recognition.

Putting on this record for the first time may well give you a shock if you're well acquainted with the bands more famous output. Though Jarvis Cocker's voice is recognisable, none of the mixture of laconic cynicism and anger that later became his trademark is present in either tone or lyrics. Also lacking is the band's later sound of rich electronic poppiness, though those familiar with the last years of the band will see parallels with the folky style of this record. What we have instead is a meek and delicate sounding Jarvis and band, with classic indie and pop folk elements melded together in songs that are somewhat varied in quality and maturity.

In opener 'My Lighthouse' you can hear foreshadows of the neat songwriting that became their trademark, but then we have songs like 'Wishful Thinking', which combines interesting folk and early eighties indie elements but fails to hang together as a whole. Another moment where future potential is obvious is 'Blue Girls', with rich jazzy piano and rhodes parts emerging before one of the most accomplished yet delicate vocals of the record croons in, dripping with saccharine flavour. The songwriting is not dissimilar to Richard Hawley's solo work, demonstrating the interweaving patterns of the two Sheffielders' careers and influences.

'Looking for Life' is another slightly incongruous track, sounding like a cross between the Smiths and the Doors, but the vocal has an assured quality which is lacking in the rest of the record. Looking at it with hindsight it is hard not to feel significance in the refrain of "looking for life".

This record is the sound of Pulp's birth. It was an awkward one, but one whose difficulty helped shape the band in a way every bit as significant as a chart-smashing first album would have been. It is not a landmark album, but if you're a fan it is well worth listening to, if only for an insight into the DNA of one of Sheffield's most unique exports.

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