How did it all begin? The debut album details the origin story for most bands, but not Pulp. It officially formed the “pulpit” pun on April 18, 1983, and 30 years later comprises a minimal part of the band’s legacy. Aside from the novelty factor of being the first album, It has been largely ignored by Pulp, the media, and all but the most, ahem, hardcore of fans.
On November 8, 2010, a promotional graphic announced the reformation of Pulp, with appearances at the Primavera Sound and Wireless Festivals, along with an official website loaded with cryptic questions and rehearsal photos. Curiously, the image referred to the Different Class-era lineup as the band’s original and promised the setlists would come “from all periods of their career.” Yet, during Pulp’s two-year reunion tour, songs prior to 1992 were such rarities that the sole track from It to pop up at the occasional gig was “My Lighthouse”.
A recent reissue has inspired some belated media attention, but only two It reviews from 1983 without the benefit of hindsight or the bias of nostalgic bliss are known to have survived time and the digital revolution. In NME’s especially harsh stance, reviewer Dave McCullough took offense with sugary lyrics and an omnipresence of “chirping flutes.” Admittedly, he’s not out of line.
What’s immediately apparent upon listening to It is how stripped-down the album sounds compared to later Pulp. In contrast to paying tribute to Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen via dancehall anthems for the outsider set, It revels in an acoustic, folksy style. The curious case of It is not that the album’s sound is merely lacking the theatricality and seedy charm that made Pulp great, but instead that the band is at odds with their own style.
“My Lighthouse” stands out for its simple sweetness, but a grating brass section combats the chipper charm of “Love Love”. “Joking Aside” reveals a frontman attempting to grow into what would later become his signature vocal style, but in a croaking, pubescent manner. Here, Jarvis Cocker stretches out every delivery of “mind”, as if he’s searching for variety among the straightforward melodies.
More than just an early step on the path of a band’s ever-evolving sound, It fundamentally differs from Pulp’s later works in lyrical content. Cocker is pining away romantically on ballads like “Wishful Thinking”, in lieu of eviscerating himself and others with a class-conscious, sex-obsessed snark. A hint at an adult Cocker surfaces during a moment of self-awareness on “Love Love”, when he acknowledges a fixation on the sensation of the emotion in question, rather than any particular person.
Even before the reunion tour, official acknowledgement of It was scarce. Whether the band’s silence is entirely due to artist embarrassment or a lack of interviewer interest is unclear, but little has been said about the album since Pulp’s rise to fame. When played after a peak-era Pulp album, It feels as if the band’s sound and lyrical subject matter has been desexualized, and the reason was revealed by Cocker in the June 1994 issue of Volume Ten. According to Cocker, he was “still a virgin” when recording It, and his partial embarrassment regarding the album comes from a “very idealised view of love and romance which was to change rather radically over the course of the next few years.”
After It, youthful naivety fell prey to cynicism, and the scathing tongue of a class-conscious poet of humanity’s sketchy underbelly was born. More than just their own Pablo Honey without the hit, It is proof that sex changes everything.