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Pulp – Freaks [Reissue]

on August 10, 2011, 8:00am

As unbearably exciting as the news was about Pulp’s long-awaited return, there were two issues raised by the promotional graphics that gave the hardcore fans something to debate during the months leading up to their return at Primavera Sound. Although the Different Class era lineup given in the advertisements was unquestionably the “classic” incarnation of Pulp, it was definitely not the stated “original”, with the band’s lineup having been a turbulent entity before then. Semantics, or is the band defining their own history?

These promotional pieces also promised Pulp would perform “songs from all periods of their career”, with a promise of the “favourites.” While the post-Different Class period has been represented by “This Is Hardcore” and “Sunrise”, with more songs surfacing at the gigs in which Russell Senior did not participate, the decade before their commercial breakthrough 1994’s His ‘N’ Hers has been almost completely ignored. Specifically, the Gift Records singles “O.U. (Gone, Gone)” and “Razzmatazz” have made rare appearances, but the only song from their first three albums from Fire Records to be performed as of press time is “Countdown” from 1992’s Separations. Under normal circumstances, a band’s concert setlists are irrelevant in relation to the albums, but in this instance, the live shows coupled with the language used on those promotional images suggest that Pulp is deliberately disowning a large part of their history. Is the choice due to their comparative lack of popularity or are the records really that bad?

Pulp’s sophomore album Freaks was reportedly produced in a week on a budget of £600-800 and Jarvis Cocker told Mojo that “it sounds crap.” On opener “Fairground”, Freaks immediately stands out from the Pulp of any other era. For starters, Cocker’s signature baritone is nowhere to be heard, with Russell Senior demonically howling and laughing along to the sort of twisted music that brings to mind a demented carnival out of a horror movie or The Killing Joke. The claustrophobic paranoia of “Master of the Universe” infers an overwhelming sense of powerlessness, but unfortunately goes a little too far with the post-punk stylings, with Cocker’s voice giving its best Ian Curtis impression. Nevertheless, it’s still a more thrilling Joy Division tribute than what most of the genre’s recent revivalists have offered.

Freaks stands as Pulp’s second full length, but Jarvis Cocker’s voice sounds as if it’s discovering itself throughout the gothic gloom. In addition to Curtis, influences from Ian McCullough and especially Mark E. Smith sometimes shine through a trace too brightly. Even when what will become the voice of Pulp is apparent on songs like “Don’t You Know” and “I Want You”, it’s on the flat side. “I Want You” offers a hint at the compelling balladeer that Cocker would become on later albums, but the song’s out-of-tuneness detracts from what is almost a classic Pulp song.

Fire Records’ upcoming reissue of Freaks will include a second bonus disc containing the majority of the band’s singles and b-sides released between 1985 and 1987. The most fascinating song from the Freaks era, including the album tracks, is “Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)”. Thanks to the crooning of lyrics like “Little girl with blue eyes, there’s a hole in your heart/And one between your legs”, the song remains one of their darkest moments yet, and irresistibly so. Freaks‘ unfortunate production sinks several songs that could have stood among Pulp’s best, but it remains an intriguing document of the band’s evolution. It is on Freaks to which the roots of Pulp’s signature tales of mis-shapes, mistakes, and misfits and often bleak outlook can truly be traced. It’s not a great album, but it’s definitely an interesting one.