Pulp - Separations (Reissue)
released 13 February 2012 on Fire Records
The third of Pulp’s reissued trio of early albums is the most accomplished, but also the most frustrating. Separations documents a band on the cusp of greatness, yet failing to realise their potential and taking their cues from their contemporaries rather than ploughing their own furrow. Pulp’s '80s albums – It and Freaks – were patchy and largely the work of a different group altogether. On Separations, the building blocks of the Pulp aesthetic were in place; Jarvis as the soap opera poet laureate and sing-along tracks with rousing choruses that raced towards thrilling climaxes. However, the quality of the songwriting isn’t quite up there with the classic albums that followed: His n’ Hers and Different Class. Countdown – a track which is the musical brother of She’s A Lady but is lyrically similar to Babies – contains a couplet that is quintessentially Pulp. Half-whispering, half-threatening, Jarvis compellingly purrs, “I brought this town to its knees / can you hear it begging to be pleased?” The alliterative Holy Trinity of Pulp – sex, seediness and Sheffield – in just fifteen words.
The first half of Separations sees Pulp trying various musical styles to see what fits best. Don’t You Want Me Anymore? has a distinct Spanish feel, She’s Dead echoes the lounge approach later used on Underwear, and the title track starts off sounding like the theme to a spaghetti western, before disjointedly morphing into tinny reggae in 12/8 time. Gratingly, the genre Pulp settle on eventually in Separations is one that was popular at the time but hasn’t dated particularly well: acid house. The whole second half of the album contains dance rhythms, drum machines, and more synth burbles and stabs than you can shake a stick at. Even though Cocker remains on top lyrical form, it’s musically uninspiring and derivative, with the crackling, fizzing arpeggio of Death II probably the best of the sounds side two has to offer. On Separations, the golden ticket is there for Pulp; it’s just slightly out of their reach.
Jarvis is ahead of the rest of them, with his evocative wordplay and winning character (notice he always refers to “women” and “ladies”, never “girls”). The other band members aren’t yet ready to become the sound of a decade and are prone to self-indulgence (the empty, quasi-rave of This House Is Condemned is particularly over-long and tedious). Separations is the last chance to see Pulp still green. There are a handful of tracks to make it worth your time, but it’s too tied down to the era from which it came and, as such, makes it difficult to love here in 2012. Less than two years after Separations hit the shops (it had been delayed since 1989), they’d unleash His n’ Hers, and victory would be theirs.