It shouldn’t matter to you
Razzmatazz is the great forgotten Pulp single. I remember picking up the 12″ single in a bargain bin of a local record shop, the kind of record shop that doesn’t exist anymore. It wasn’t particularly fancy, was geared more to mainstream stuff and that appeared to be what it sold. So, if you liked a more obscure song, it paid to wait a few weeks and then sift through the bargain bin. It was a good and cheap way of discovering new bands, or at least hearing bands I’d read about but couldn’t hear on the radio.
I remember thinking Pulp were a bit like a more glam version of The Fall – this compelling, northern frontman half-singing/half-speaking his way through a song. The Fall would release a song called Glam Racket in the same year, 1993, so I suspect Mark E Smith wouldn’t have necessarily liked my comparison. But he is an odd chap anyway.
Jarvis Cocker has this reputation of being an arch observer, peeking through the net curtains but remaining detached from the drama, but what makes this song work so well is that while he is observing to an extent he is also right in the centre of things. He sounds bitter, jealous, angry and song sounds far more believable for it.
The brother/mother rhymes at the start are the root of so much Pulp parody – it is the archetypal opening to a Pulp song, a bit sinister, a bit sordid and grounded in domesticity. It gets better, though. Cocker relays pointed barbs at a former girlfriend, that she is stuck at home “eating boxes of Milk Tray” when she is not with a guy who is like a “bad comedian”. He is presenting her as lonelier and less interesting now she has left him, but he is clearly an unreliable narrator – “I was lying when I asked you to stay”. As the person who hasn’t moved on, it feels like he is projecting his own anxieties on her. It is a nasty, sad song, but it rings true.
The narrative is accompanied by the kind of bedsit disco sound Pulp made their own, one that became instantly familiar, yet was particular to them. At this point it was still a little rough around the edges and they were not as slick as they’d become, in terms of production values anyway. This suited the song’s subject matter well. They sound like outsiders and loners, while the song itself chronicles them.
They would develop the template from here (and had been for some time, obviously) – they already had great songs like Babies that would become very popular and were on the verge of finally achieving some degree of stardom after a decade of obscurity. Yet Razzmatazz is isn’t just a song of historical interest, a stepping stone between indie label obscurity and major label fame, it just might be my favourite Pulp song.