When Pulp released their third album Separations in 1992, they brought forward a sound closer to what would eventually be their signature – pop dance tunes with a hint of campy sex appeal. Split into two “sides,” the first features more traditionally arranged pop songs, a mix of the macabre flair of Freaks and the self-assured pop that will come with His ‘n’ Hers and Different Class.
“Down By the River” is an example of the macabre – a morose song that creeps along as Jarvis sings about a drowned body lost in a river that stops for no one. The album opener “Love is Blind” kicks off with a deceptively light beat but devious half-sung-half-spoken lyrics like, “You take all their love, and you suck out their eyes, and then you rip out their hearts, and you eat their insides. Yeah, then you just walk away, with a smile on your face,” all wrapped up with a few la la la’s. “Don’t You Want Me Anymore” and “She’s Dead” prominently feature Candida Doyle’s keyboards, a signature Pulp sound. You can hear the band coming together thoughtfully on these songs as they carve out their style. They aren’t as danceable as songs on later albums, and maybe not as artistic, but well deserving of repeated listens.
And just when you think you’ve got them all figured out, the band go in a different direction on side two of the album and record four acid house songs. “Countdown” is actually one of the band’s best songs, even though I far prefer the re-recorded version that is included on the collection Countdown: 1992-1983. The music is a hypnotic trance while Jarvis sing-speaks a pep talk to his younger self to stop waiting for life to happen. This is followed by the repetitive “My Legendary Girlfriend,” with breathy vocals and panting. These two songs happen to be rather well-known, but in my opinion the next track “Death II” is the real winner. Perhaps because it’s a little more pop and less trance, with vocals that would sound at home on His ‘n’ Hers. The album ends with the eccentric “This House is Condemned,” their most experimental song on the album. Russell Senior lends his monotone vocals against blips and bleeps for almost 8 minutes of a peculiar techno poetry. It’s novel, but comes across as cold.
Still, Separations is the album Pulp needed to make. You can hear the band forming an identity and working out the kinks. This results in a big payoff when they finally break through with their next album.