The second album by Pulp, Freaks, is darker and less optimistic than their folksy debut, It. You can hardly tell that it’s the same band. This is due in part to the a massive personnel change, leaving Jarvis Cocker as the only consistent thread. Freaks sees the addition of Russell Senior (guitar, violin) and Candida Doyle (keyboard), who are still members of the band today, as well as Peter Mansell (bass) and Candida’s brother Magnus Doyle (drums). Where It was acoustic, earnest, and straightforward, Freaks is ominous and strange. The album did not enjoy commercial success and the band rarely performs any of the songs live, but this is a deserving addition to any Pulp fan’s collection.
Don’t expect dance tracks or indie pop. This is a record of risky experimentation, more art school than discotheque. Jarvis’ lyrics always tend to focus on misfits and outcasts, and it’s no different here. But rather than celebrating their opposition of the bourgeoisie, the characters on this album are filled with paranoia, obsession, and dementia.
The album kicks off with “Fairground,” quite possibly the most bizarre Pulp song ever recorded. Candida plays a sinister keyboard as Russell sings (one of two tracks not performed by Jarvis) a demonic tale about visiting some deranged carnival with “fish-eyed foetus” and “a dog with eight legs.” It’s something out of a horror film, complete with shrieks and wails. It sounds pretentious, and possibly is, but it’s more enjoyable than you would think. There’s something gutsy about beginning an album this way.
“I Want You,” the most accessible song on the album, is a ballad that could be successfully performed today. Despite Jarvis lamenting, “I want you… I need you…” the song evokes desperation and obsession. By this second track, the band has cemented the dark themes of the album. A standout, “Being Followed Home,” builds in intensity as Jarvis sings of paranoia and fear. You can hear the confidence in his voice that the previous album lacked. It’s a rather poetic song.
Other notable songs include the more traditional “Don’t You Know” and “They Suffocate at Night,” the latter about a minute too long but with a fantastically manic violin track. Jarvis does his best Ian Curtis impression on “Master of the Universe,” the only real low point of the album. Subpar lyrics and insincere vocals fall flat.
Do yourself a favor and give Freaks a listen on a dark and chilly day. It’s far too interesting of an album to miss out on. Note that the 2012 reissue includes a bonus disc with “Little Girl With Blue Eyes” and “Dogs are Everywhere,” plus B-sides. These songs follow suit in theme and tone, but are largely skip-able except for hardcore fans.