Thursday, August 22, 2013
Track of the Week: Pulp, "Mile End"
From about 1995 to 1998, most of the new music listen I listened to came from the British Isles. During that time Blur, Suede, Oasis, Radiohead, Portishead, and The Verve put out some amazing stuff that also got airplay on American alternative rock radio. Pulp, on the other hand, were so British that they translated poorly to these shores, which made me love them all the more. While Oasis, The Verve, and Radiohead blasted along with heavy guitars that reflected grunge's dominance, Pulp had a sound like cabaret filtered through 80s New Wave with a dash of The Smiths. As time has gone by and the 90s are receding like my hairline into the realm of memory, Pulp comes out looking a lot more relevant and less dated than the likes of Oasis.
Lead singer Jarvis Cocker didn't write conventional rock songs. He sang a lot about sex, but told stories of unhealthy obsession and embarrassment, not cock-rocking bedroom conquest. Cocker also spun tales of mundane adventures in the everyday world. "Dishes" is about washing the dishes as an act of love and self-reflection. "Sorted Out for E's and Whizz" relates the horror story of going to a rave gone wrong, complete with bad drugs. "Mile End," from the 1996 cinematic masterpiece Trainspotting, describes living in a cheap apartment in a crummy building, and does so in exacting detail. There's the piss in the elevator, constant fish smell, and ruffians making a violent racket. There aren't many rock bands who would bother writing about such a thing, much less so poetically.
Anybody who's had the experience knows what it's like. I always associate this song with the Chicago apartment my buddy Dave had until we lived together. The halls of the building looked like a cheap, hourly rate motel and smelled like burnt hair, and his unit was a tiny studio with godawful rust-colored shag carpeting straight out of 1973. Because of that, and the fact that we both loved Trainspotting, with this being among his favorite songs on the soundtrack, I have a hard time listening to it these days. He died suddenly last December, and every time I hear a song or see a movie that we would enjoy together, it just rips my heart out. It's just the kind of thing that Jarvis Cocker and Pulp could make a song about.