Mark revisits a classic from the Jarvis Cocker troupe on its twentieth anniversary.
Who made it? Pulp, Ed Buller (Producer), Island Records.
Who’s on it? Jarvis Cocker (Vocals), Russell Senior (Guitars, Violin), Candida Doyle (Keyboards), Nick Banks (Drums), Steve Mackey (Bass).
Recorded at: Britannia Row, London.
Release Date: 18th April 1994.
It seems absurd to imagine Jarvis Cocker as anything other than a star. The louche, gangling, charismatic social commentator casting a perceptive gaze across the whole gamut of sexual relationships; from awkward, fumbling afternoons to seedy, lamp-lit liaisons. This star, though, was a long time in the ascent. With Pulp conceived as a school project as far back as 1978, even the godsend of a John Peel session just three years later failed to spark success.
Creative turbulence was also largely responsible for that early stagnation, with the band negotiating several personnel changes and failing to settle on an identifiable musical direction, seemingly in an attempt to be all things to all people. Indeed, they’d been hacking at the coalface for over a decade before producing the first album under their recognised line-up, 1989’s Separations (their third in total). Separations was a stylistic landmark for the band – one side devoted to ballads, the other to house music. The next logical step was to fuse those influences and – from such freakish origins – His ‘n’ Hers was born.
The fantasy narrative would be that His ‘n’ Hers was the breakthrough Pulp had waited sixteen years for. In truth, it came on the back of an already-burgeoning reputation; “She’s A Lady” and “Babies” were already set-list staples, whilst “Lipgloss” and “Do You Remember the First Time?” both charted within the Top 50 when released as tasters for the album. “Babies” had previously failed to chart in 1991, but the re-mixed version included on the album gave the band their first Top 20 hit.
Lyrically, Cocker time-shares between protagonist and voyeur; from “No wonder you’re looking thin, when all that you live on is lipgloss and cigarettes/And scraps at the end of the day when he’s given the rest to someone with long black hair” (“Lipgloss”), to “I tried hard to make it work/Kissed her where she said it hurt/But I was always underneath” (“She’s A Lady”). And, occasionally, both within one song (“Babies”). Mostly, though, Cocker is the nice guy who never wins, either marginalised, betrayed or forever waiting to be noticed. His ability to empathise with – and write insightfully from – a female perspective was perhaps the only silver lining to his father having left home when he was seven and, consequently, spending his formative years primarily in the company of his mother and sister. It helps that Pulp have a way with heart-wrenching choruses – “Have You Seen Her Lately” sees Cocker imploring a friend to break free of a ruinous relationship, but “Happy Endings” is the epic standout, with a huge, swirling chorus and killer chord-changes and Cocker’s diva-ish vocal tearing every last emotion from the listener.
His ‘n’ Hers parked Pulp at number 9 in the UK Album Chart, whilst M People’s Elegant Slumming dipped at the line to snatch that year’s Mercury Music Prize from them, reportedly by a single vote. If the band’s trajectory was a quiz show, it is at this point that it would be appropriate to stop the video and ask, “What Happened Next?” For it was just a year later when – with a single, searing legato of Senior’s electric violin – “Common People” exploded into popular culture and teleported the band centre-stage of the Britpop phenomenon (for which they were never a natural fit), making Jarvis Cocker the unlikeliest of sex-symbols and a geek-chic pioneer in the process.
- Jarvis Cocker’s sister Saskia was a backing-vocalist for the band from 1982-1983.
- Keyboardist Candida Doyle was introduced to the band by her brother Magnus, the band’s drummer at the time and who subsequently left.
- A deluxe version of the album was released in 2006, featuring a second disc of B-sides, demos and rarities.
- ‘Babies’ was only available on the CD version of the album, whilst ‘Razzmatazz’ (released as a single in the UK between ‘Babies’ and ‘Lipgloss’) was only available on the North American release.