What do you get when you have a band, especially a talented and misunderstood frontman, that toils for years in obscurity, always hoping and striving for fame, finally reaches its goal with a couple of hit records and massive headline spots at top festivals, only to find out that the fame is not what he/they wanted in the end? You get an album like “This is hardcore”.
Indeed, Pulp’s previous record, their fifth, “Different class” had them out on top, almost two decades after a 15-year old Jarvis Cocker formed the band with his friend Peter Dalton. Pulp had seen multiple personnel changes over 1980s and they struggled mightily, releasing two albums to almost no impact on the music buying public. They started to gain traction with their third album, 1992’s “Separations”, and then, “His ‘n’ hers” truly broke the band in 1994. It’s sort of a chicken and the egg thing with Pulp and BritPop. Nevertheless, the scene’s wave carried the band with it to the pinnacles of fame and still, it seemed, Jarvis and company weren’t happy. The sixth album took a year to record and was a struggle from the beginning, perhaps this was partly due to the departure of long time member Russell Senior but the band persevered and the results were completely worth it.
When I first heard it, I was a bit thrown off as I’m sure a lot of people were. Of course, I was still young and looking for more of that glam rock to dance to and sing along with Cocker’s wry observations on love and sex and life in general. I wasn’t ready for all this jaded maturity and found the music too heavy on inaccessible side of the scale. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and with my own jaded maturity, I can now see “This is hardcore” for the masterpiece that it is. An album that is timeless and stands up to Pulp’s best work.
Sample, if you will, my three picks for you below and let me know your thoughts.
“A little soul”: Songs with titles like this are usually a bit more uplifting, soul or R&B pop tracks that shake it, suggesting that ‘little’ is an understatement. However, Cocker turns this idea on its head with a literal take on its theme. The narrative is of a man speaking to his son, likely not a direct conversation though, just one in his head, as he’s watching him from afar or looking at a photo of him. “You look like me but you’re not like me, I hope. I have run away from the one thing that I ever made.” It’s a tired sounding number, an end of the night ballad, a mellow blues band in an empty, echoing club, Cocker sounding sorrowful and full of regret and though he feels he doesn’t have any soul to share, there’s plenty here.
“Help the aged”: Another song here that’s a bit depressing. If you’re sensing a theme, you’re spot on. Amongst the screaming and searing guitars is Cocker eulogizing youthfulness and imploring the young to truly see seniors and not hide from their own mortality. “You can dye your hair but it’s the one thing you can’t change, can’t run away from yourself.” No, it’s not a charitable song, as its title suggests, but an introspective one. A midlife crisis in song form, rage and sadness in a four minute song rather than a red convertible.
“This is hardcore”: The title track is the epic, six and a half minute centrepiece of the album. The sound is very different from the synth glam of their previous record and Jarvis Cocker uses his usual lurid thematics here as an extended metaphor for how he sees the music industry. It’s a slow burning number, dark and seedy, likely something you might hear in a lower end strip joint while a disinterested performer moves to its crawling beat on the grimy stage. Cocker runs the gamut of hopes and dreams and foreplay to being spent and used in every way possible. ”Oh, this is hardcore. There is no way back for you.” This is a great band at peak form.
Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:
10. Sloan “Navy blues”
9. Cake “Prolonging the magic”
8. Embrace “The good will out”
7. Mojave 3 “Out of tune”
6. Rufus Wainwright “Rufus Wainwright”
5. Manic Street Preachers “This is my truth now tell me yours”
You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.