Review Summary: Pulp goes to the D-I-S-C-O.
In the late Eighties, it almost seemed that Pulp would be no longer. Although they built up somewhat of a large following in their native Sheffield, and with two albums behind them, somehow, over the past ten years of trial and error, they were unable to truly make it to the mainstream. They'd evolved from new-wave, then to indie pop, and eventually to ultra-dark, gothic rock, all with little success. Eventually, frontman Jarvis Cocker decided to leave Sheffield to study film at St. Martin's College in London. Pulp easily could've fell through the cracks to become an interesting curio of the music scene of the eighties, never to be heard or seen from again. However... thankfully, that didn't happen. While studying at St. Martin's in London, Jarvis met Steve Mackey, a fan of Pulp who'd been to many gigs of theirs in Sheffield and London and who would eventually join as their new bassist, and in 1989, they recorded their third album entitled "Separations" - the first true breath of the Pulp that would record His n' Hers and Different Class.
Separations offers two main courses: an upgraded, sometimes lighter re-evaluation of their earlier work; and, most importantly, the uncomfortably intimate and intricately layered studies of sex and attraction that would come to define the Pulp of "I Spy", "Sheffield: Sex City", and "Seductive Barry". On side one, songs like "She's Dead" and "Down by the River" could have, with a few alterations, easily fit on their previous album, while "Love is Blind" opens Separations with an unexpected bang. However, for the first 22 minutes of Separations, it still feels slightly like Pulp didn't know where they were going with their music and weren't entirely confident with their material.
Enter side two.
This is where Pulp truly began for most people, and even where the band themselves would've wanted it to begin. "Countdown" and "Death II" are blistering dance tracks that in the first minute blows most, if not all, of their previous work away. "My Legendary Girlfriend" is Jarvis at his best: carefully and intricately telling of what becomes a cracked relationship through the course of the song, describing Sheffield to a meticulous extent, and all the while, creating pop that none could compare to: "walking through the sleeping town, down deserted streets, frozen gardens grey in the moonlight, fences, down to the canal, creeping slowly past cooling towers, deserted factories, looking for an adventure."
Although the material may not be just as consistent on Separations as on Different Class or This is Hardcore, Separations works because this album is the sound of the very beginning of Pulp's flirtations with the sound they became known for. By the time the album itself was finally released in 1992 after being shelved for years by their label, Fire Records, Pulp were onto bigger and better things: they'd signed to Warp imprint Gift Records, "My Legendary Girlfriend" received recognition from NME for single of the week, and had started to write and record the songs that would end up on their next album, His n' Hers. Only time was able to tell what Pulp would achieve in the next few years...