Barely a trickle from Pulp on their second reunion tour means the remnants of their previous releases are picked over again and again. Hymn of the North may be the only gasp of fresh energy from Jarvis Cocker and company, but the hits are still ripe for the picking. After You was the end of the first reunion, a James Murphy-produced powerhouse which found its footing a decade later, live on stage. It felt shunted around until now, pushed away and pulled at by the hardcore group of fans needing to hear about the express route to Tesco in those fearful nights on the town. It took Pulp over a decade to release a song after We Love Life. At this rate, half an album should be ready by the end of the century. We can only hope.
Eleven years on, then, from We Love Life, and Pulp find their footing immediately. They are back on the fringe, burying themselves deep into the disco wasteland and pumping out trips to Tesco as and when they see fit. From the final parties of Hackney to references to Safeway, the shop replaced by Morrisons back in the late 1980s, there are tinges of old-school Pulp and the youthful spirit which adorned the band pre-His ‘n’ Hers. The inevitable trips to the supermarket chart a course through After You, the punctuality and civility of offering first place to some stranger drooling over the same discount meats. Pulp always has a fear at the heart of their tune, even on the lightest and brightest of them is the sense of clawing claustrophobia. After You has it in buckets.
From its bottled freedom in the opening two lines, the horses run free but it feels anything but for those who find themselves relating to After You. An endless stream of repetition fits the bill nicely, the title repeated over and over in this endless loop of slimy manners which insist on putting a foot behind someone just behind you. Still the same sexed-up witticisms from Cocker pour through, the acceptance of nudity piled right next to gravestones a chilling reminder of the carousel-living which takes place in After You and the world around it. Clubs for cheap meal deals, bars for booze in the off license and going out to hook up replaced by this senseless notion of meeting someone in the 7-11. Pulp mature but their seediness remains intact, and gloriously so.
Is this the closest collaboration listeners will get between Pulp and LCD Soundsystem? Absolutely. The fine line is crossed with handclaps and brief bouts of percussion as Murphy takes up the reigns of minor instruments and Pulp sound as though they have not missed a beat. It did not even crack the Top 100, but such is the story of Pulp. Their best works never made it to the top spot, so why would a Murphy-featuring masterclass fare any better in the grim and glum arena of pop? A lot has changed since Pulp found themselves kissing the underside of the top spot, yet Cocker and company maintain the same tones, tunes and styles which brought them in touching distance of Number One all those years ago. After You is one of their many songs to paint the picture of the charts as arbitrary ranking, rather than a genuine accolade handed to the most deserving.