In much the same way that a parent, although they love their children unconditionally, has a golden period of their kids childhood (usually the post toddler phase when they are forming their own distinct personality but still retain that cherubic cuteness) so it is the same with music. Pulp, as everyone should be aware, were around for a very long time before they broke through and I saw them live several times just as they were on the cusp and you could sense they had something special about them. Though I am intensely fond of the "Separations" material ("My Legendary Girlfriend" is the first Pulp song I ever heard and is still one of my favourites) there is no doubt for me that "His N Hers" released in 1994 is their finest moment. It catches them while they still had a certain eccentric gaucheness about them but had written songs that clearly showed an acute pop sensibility with an burgeoning perverse yet mature awareness of social minutiae. Pulp more than any other band around at the time and indeed since sang with eloquence and no little humour about the lives they , or rather Jarvis, had lived.
Of course in raconteur, clown, comedian, social commentator and singer Jarvis Cocker they had a front man who you just knew would be a star the first time you laid eyes on him. Exuding discounted faux glamour their synthetic mini operas were witty, clever, sometimes audacious and nearly always as catchy as a summer cold. Their sound was given an organic base by Russell Seniors pullulating violin and scabrous guitars. Candida Doyles lurid keyboard, piano; synthesizer lines give the music the grimy yet alluring quality that made it so intoxicating. Most importantly Pulp had the songs.
"Babies" is the absolute pinnacle , an absolute maelstrom of repressed desire and misdirected lust, the way the chorus pivots on that Line "I want to take you home , I want to give children " is just magical. And of course there are all those yeah yeah yeahs. One of the great pop songs of the last twenty five years (Pulp are responsible for three- "Babies", "O.U." and naturally "Common People") it is by no means, though the only great pop sing in "His N Hers". "Do You Remember The First Time" revels in its vertiginous melody and tiny dramatic impasses. "Joyriders" is replete with stuttering rhythms and tremendous peaks and contains the terrific line "Hey you in the Jesus sandals/wouldn't you like to watch some vandals ". "Lipgloss", another single and another glorious pop nugget. "Acrylic Afternoons " has that mock lothario sibilance that Jarvis used often at this stage in Pulps career but segues into another pop moment like a packet of sherbet dips exploding. His vocals on "Have You Seen Her Lately" are ohh so slightly dodgy but the song is wonderfully balanced between anxiety and desire while "Pink Glove" builds portentously like a pop Wicker Man. A couple of tracks -"Someone Like The Moon" and "She's A Lady"- lack the instinctive dynamics of the finest material here but Pulps often amusing and sometimes poignant observations on class, sleazy assignations , voyeurism , frustrated desire and sex are never less than pleasing.
What makes this so utterly essential are the tracks on the extra CD.These bonus discs are often so superfluous as to be meaningless but this one has genuine interest with demo's, b-sides and session material. It's actually worth owning for "Deep Fired In Kelvin" alone, a labyrinthine semi-funk workout with Jarvis narrating and cooing like "Jackanory" written by Mike Leigh. "Street Lites", "His N Hers" is also excellent while I'm very fond of "Space" because it brings back memories of seeing Pulp live in my home town of Halifax some time before they broke in the national consciousness.
It's almost impossible to believe that this album lost out to the execrable coffee table soul of M People for the Mercury music prize (a decision that must haunt those judges now). This album stands alone atop the pinnacle of the scree sloped mountain that was Brit-pop, a lamentable genre now in danger of being resurrected thanks to the Artic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs etc. Pulp did it first though and what's more they did it so much better.