THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
84. Pulp – “Babies”
The genius of “Babies” is that the harder you try to make sense of the story the less sense the song seems to make: and the more you think about the song the less the story matters. This is a confession of what ‘happened years ago’ which is also a seduction; an attempt to rewrite (Freud might say ‘cathect’) pre-lapsarian companionship as the prehistory of today’s desire. But the urgency of the chorus – ‘I want to take you home’ RIGHT NOW – suggests that teenaged fumblings are not the prelude to but the truth of mature sexuality, hastily hidden under the mattress when adulthood knocks on the bedroom door. Making babies is the coverstory: “Babies” doesn’t just make the family the centre of precocious sexual experiment, but makes home, kids, boyfriend-girlfriend, everything else, an excuse for it.
Story: curiosity becomes desire (‘I wanted to see as well as hear’); fellowship ‘we listened’) is abandoned for solitary vice (scopophilia); the act of entering the wardrobe (shades of CS Lewis?) becomes both enclosure and a seemingly paradoxical kind of exposure. Shut in by our desires, we’ve also effectively cornered ourselves: ‘I fell asleep inside, I never heard her come’, I was hiding, but there was nowhere to hide… And then repetition: she caught me inside; you caught me inside her, and although this time I heard you stop outside the door, I still couldn’t do anything else!
Song: a hymn to the aimlessness of undisciplined teenage desire, not yet running along socially sanctioned lines, in which one body can be substituted for another, one sister for another, one sex for another. Desire which expands to fill the time (after school) and space (bedrooms detached from the houses which enclose them, which literally do not belong: sex before marriage as sex before mortgage!) available. Which is why this story can never add up: what’s unsettling isn’t just the substitution of one sister for another, but of me for the boy from the garage up the road; ‘I had to get it on’, driven not only by my displaced lust, i.e. lust itself, but by hers.
Excuses multiply guilt rather than rescind it, and “Babies” produces the fact of substitution – that for sex one body is as good as another – which love’s particularity seeks to tame and subdue. I want to take you home. Now. We can make up for all that lost time. So I was watching your sister; and I was listening while you went with Neve. So we never. Although we wanted to really. It was you all along. But we never. Until now. Now? If the chorus is supposed to make amends for or cancel out the past, it’s not just unconvincing, but a radical failure. The indeterminate ‘you’ to which it is addressed is never just you, never only you, never really you at all: it’s you or your sister, you and your sister, you and/or whoever else were to be sitting across the table from me now.
…And of course, YOU: and you, and you, and you? This is popular music and like the sound of one couple in the block shagging, as Jarvis recounts in Sheffield Sex City, one of the tracks that partnered “Babies” on the original Gift release, pretty soon it’ll have everybody fucking.