James McMahon reflects on one of the band's greatest albums...
Pulp had been kicking around for sixteen-years by the time their fourth album His ‘n’ Hers arrived in the April of 1994. Sixteen years – the earliest of them under the quite terrible moniker of Arabicus Pulp (a merging of the title of a 1972 Michael Caine thriller and a brand of coffee Jarvis Cocker had found in the Financial Times commodity index) – that encompassed a debut gig at Rotherham Arts Centre, a little bit of John Peel Show-exposure that most thought would be the summit of the band’s achievements, as well as a period where the singer, Jarvis, would perform live in a wheelchair, after falling out of a window trying to impress a girl.
Pulp’s existence up until 1994 was eventful; much less purposeful. And so when His ‘n’ Hers arrived, expectations were modest. “A throbbing ferment of nightclub soul and teen opera” purred NME’s Stuart Maconie about the band’s NME Single Of The Week, My Legendary Girlfriend, a few years prior, but few expected Pulp to return with a record that would still be coveted twenty five years later.
So much misery has seeped into British soil since the peak of Britpop, that much of the music which once felt so shiny and hopeful then, jars in 2019. The 18-30 fuelled hedonism of Blur’s Girls And Boys feels obscene in an era of zero-hour contracts and the crippling neurosis of social media.
Oasis once sang that you might as well get on the white line, which doesn’t scan in an austerity hit country that can’t afford to pay its rent, let alone buy drugs. And let’s be honest, the whole thing feels uncomfortably unrepresentative of the multicultural landmass that is modern Britain. When Suede’s Brett Anderson adorned the cover of Select Magazine in 1993, pouting infront of the Union Jack, it felt like a challenge for British musicians to raise their game and create a scene to be proud of. Now, it feels a bit like a flyer for a particularly fey pro-Brexit rally.
Released just weeks after the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and thereby positioned at the arrowhead of seismic pop cultural upheaval, His ‘n’ Hers is the exception, in that it’s a record that largely reflects the state of Britain even now.
As a record created by a band hailing from Sheffield, the heart of The Industrial North, this might be because the landscape the band are describing – one in which kids steal cars for kicks, where broken people break each other further, where everyone is just trying to find some glimmer of light in the darkness – isn’t indistinguishable from the state of your atypical northern metropolis all these years on. These are geographical areas still untouched and unloved.
It’s because, within an era where we’re recontextualizing our understanding of masculinity, Jarvis’ early nineties musings on love, sex and romance sound ahead of their time; Pink Glove, for example, is a pop song very much about sex, sang by a man who obviously really enjoys sex, and yet it’s concerned primarily with a woman’s enjoyment of it. There’s an awful lot of songs about sex on His ‘n’ Hers. Do You Remember The First Time? Babies. Lipgloss. Most of them sordid. And yet unlike the incoming machismo that would ultimately drive all the freaks and dreamers from indie, all of them sound like they’ve come from the mind of a man who actually likes women.
His ‘n’ Hers has endured because it’s a record that sounded out of time even when it arrived. Made by people who looked like their outfits had been acquired at an Oxfam closing down sale, produced by Ed Buller – who the same year, would bring his ethereal touch to Suede’s excellent Dog Man Star – it’s a record that manages to sound completely in thrall to the great pop of the past – Roxy, Bowie, Human League, Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg – while also quite unlike anything that had been heard until that point and nothinglike anything that’s followed since. Sorry Long Blondes, you were good, but…
And it’s because it’s a record that’s all chemistry, like it couldn’t be replicated by any other combination of people, at any other time, in any other setting. Candida Doyle’s analog synths hum with a warmth only present in the circuitry of instruments manufactured in a prior age. The glacial atmospherics of guitarist/violin player Russell Senior infuse some of the album’s most exciting moments, laying down beds of noise for Jarvis to deliver his sermons upon.
Steve Mackey’s basslines and Nick Banks’ drum parts keep the whole thing from falling apart. You can argue that the band would write better songs – without Common People, released just over a year later, it’s unlikely the band would have achieved the ubiquity they enjoyed (or didn’t, if 1998’s This Is Hardcore is anything go by) within the era. But if there’s a document of just what a special band Pulp were, it’s the songs of His ‘n’ Hers; not the practice room wee break jam of Disco 2000 or the cloying Mis-Shapes.
It’s frustrating for Pulp fans that the band took sixteen years to get to His ‘n’ Hers, and yet eight years after its release they would be gone, save for a brief, ill-fated two-year reunion in 2011. That time contains many highlights. A Glastonbury headline performance that empowered weird kids in playgrounds all across the UK. A bony bum wiggled in the face of The (fallen) King Of Pop. A late career highlight where the band decided to make a shoegazing album about trees. But it’s an album released twenty-five years ago this week that remains the highpoint of this most brilliantly unusual of bands.