Best albums of 1998: #4 Pulp “This is hardcore”

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.

Best albums of 1998: #5 Manic Street Preachers “This is my truth now tell me yours”

At the time that the Manic Street Preachers released their fifth studio album, I really only knew them for a couple of cover songs that I had on compilation CDs. And I don’t actually know why I didn’t search them out sooner because I really liked their renditions of “Suicide is painless” and “Raindrops keep falling on my head”. Nonetheless, the year after “This is my truth now tell me yours” was released, my roommate at the time, Ryan, had picked up a copy and was listening to it all the time. I made a copy of it on cassette eventually (or did he burn me a copy to CD, I honestly can’t remember) and I grew to love it over the years. So much so that I now have a copy of it in my vinyl collection.

The album is the band’s first without a shred of input from Richey Edwards, one of the band’s original guitarists and lyricists. He had disappeared three years earlier in 1995 and to this day, has never been found, though he has been declared dead since 2008. His disappearance had really shaken the band to its core and they had briefly considered disbanding. Even still, they never replaced him, carrying on as a three-piece and as I understand it, they continue to set up a microphone for him at all their live shows. For the first album after he went missing, 1996’s “Everything must go”, the band used his lyrics for a handful of songs but for “This is my truth”, all the songs’ words were written by the band’s other lyricist, Nicky Wire. This album also represented a change in sound for the band, softening its harder elements and experimenting with different instrumentation and sounds.

“This is my truth now tell me yours” was a huge hit for the Manics, carrying on from the ground broken with its predecessor. It debuted at number one on the UK charts, had the band cleaning up at the NME and Brit awards, garnered them a Mercury Prize nomination, and broke them with an international audiences. It’s a big album that is both personal and aware of the ills of the world. It is melodic guitar rock with a conscience, James Dean Bradfield’s earnest voice speaking to our deepest selves.

The album is pretty darned solid from end to end and earned the band five very successful singles and it is from these that I present my three picks for you below.


”You stole the sun from my heart”: You’ve heard the term ‘Frenemy’? Well, I think that’s an apt term to describe this first song. A sampled electronic drum loop set against the quiet versus loud phenomenon. Sunshine and technicolour animals set against the deluge, love versus hate. “You have broken through my armour and I don’t have an answer. I love you all the same.” Nicky Wire has said he wrote the words about the band’s feelings towards touring but it could just as easily describe an unhealthy relationship. That’s the beauty of the Manics.

”Tsunami”: Electric sitar forms the basis of this, the fourth single released off the album. It lends a mystical and mysterious edge to an otherwise accessible sounding pop song. It tells the story of the Gibbons twin sisters who held a pact with one another not to speak to another living soul unless one of them should die. The title describes the feeling the surviving twin must have felt when the other actually did die (under mysterious circumstances) in 1993. “Tsunami, tsunami, came washing over me. Can’t speak. Can’t think. Won’t talk. Won’t walk.” Meanwhile, that electric sitar continues to dance along our spines.

”If you tolerate this your children will be next”: This is easily my favourite track by the band, a song so beautiful and moving, not just in words but in sound and passion, that has been known to bring a tear to my ear. It takes for its subject matter the Spanish civil war, the title is a tagline used by the Republican army to try enlist the help of likeminded folks from other countries to their cause. So many great lines in the song but I think the ones that ring true the most are these: “Gravity keeps my head down. Or is it maybe shame at being so young and being so vain.” Hits deep at my own heart and gets me wondering if I would have had the courage in the face of a world war or something like it. Again, there’s so much passion, incredulity, and outrage imbued in this track and yet, singing along with it brings such release. Very nice indeed.


Check back next Thursday for album #4. 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”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 1998: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Thursday! And welcome to my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums of the year series. I know. I know. I just finished my series on 2008 two weeks ago and here I am starting 1998.

Well, there’s a good reason for that. I came to the realization while writing up the last list that I might have started things off behind the eight ball last year when I instituted these series and I thought I would try playing catch up and do two years worth of these this year. We’ll see if I can keep this up. The odds aren’t in my favour, to be honest.

Anyway, 1998. After the great year for British Rock that was 1997, the following year felt a bit of a letdown. How could it not? So I found myself actively looking for great new music but not necessarily finding it and instead, just settled into the same music from the previous few years. Hence, the year 1998 started a cycle of two or three years of musical malaise for me that only came to an end with the indie rock resurgence in 2001.

On a personal note, the year started with my last few months of post-secondary education life and then, in the fall, I moved downtown and started working full-time at my previously part-time job. My employers at the time, Stephenson’s Rent-all, put me in their management training program and so started my adult life. My pay wasn’t great and my rent was high so it still felt like I was living the life of the starving student. As such, I couldn’t always afford to buy the few CDs that caught my fancy and given the Internet was still a number of years away from streaming, I didn’t even hear most of the albums on this list until later on.

All this aside, I did manage to cobble together a list of ten great albums from 1998 and below are the first five. If you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the next five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. Enjoy the nostalgia ride with me.


#10 Sloan “Navy blues”

I finally gave in and got into Sloan with their third record, “One chord to another”. I had really, really disliked “Underwhelmed”, the first single off their first record “Smeared”, but really dug everything I heard from them after that on the radio. And, of course, in 1990s Canada with the Can Con rules, they were played a lot. Unfortunately, due to the same reasons I mentioned above, I didn’t get around to listening to “Navy blues” until a number of years after its release, though I was definitely knee deep in its singles. A bit harder than their previous two records, this record still features plenty of harmonies, diverse songwriting, and Beatle-esque pop rock sensibilities.

Gateway tune: Money city maniacs


#9 Cake “Prolonging the magic”

Here is another album whose singles were all over alternative radio, at least in Toronto, in the late 1990s. It got so bad that every time the song below came on the radio at my workplace, or even those of us who worked with him even hinted at singing the chorus line, a colleague of mine would be driven to fits and rants. Cake’s sound is instantly recognizable with its heavy bass focus, regular use of horns, and frontman John McCrea’s deep sing speak vocals. And “Prolonging the magic”, Cake’s third album, was likely the one that firmly established the band in our collective consciousness. Like it or not, you can’t deny how much fun this music is.

Gateway tune: Sheep go to heaven


#8 Embrace “The good will out”

British band Embrace (not to be confused with the American hardcore punk band of the same name) released their debut a year or two too late, arriving tardy to the BritPop party. “The good will out” sold very well and was reviewed well enough by the British press but it wasn’t long before the backlash adhered to the flailing movement tarred them with a brush as coattail hangers. It’s unfortunate really because I truly liked the album – its rockers getting me sufficiently riled and its ballads appealing to my sappier side. The album and group bridged the gap between Britpop and post-Britpop and were at the vanguard of passionate pop bands that included the likes of Travis, Keane, and Coldplay, a factoid that might sway you to love or hate them.

Gateway tune: All you good good people


#7 Mojave 3 “Out of tune”

Mojave 3 was formed when Slowdive was dropped from Creation and Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and Ian McCutcheon decided to switch gears and move towards a slightly folkier sound. After their lovely debut, 1996’s “Ask me tomorrow”, Simon Rowe (Chapterhouse) and Alan Forrester were added to fill out the sound and the result was this album, their sophomore. Though it’s not my favourite of their work, all of their albums are pretty consistently great. They rock in a more subtle way, Halstead’s soothing vocals is the butter on the fresh out of the oven croissants and the rest of the band follow his lead, adding plenty of lovely textures to unfold.

Gateway tune: Who do you love?


#6 Rufus Wainwright “Rufus Wainwright”

The first time I heard Rufus Wainwright was one night when I took the subway downtown to visit my friend Mark, who had just moved into a new apartment in Little Italy with some roommates I had never met. When I got there, Mark and his roommates had already started in on the beers and this self-titled debut was playing. It was so jarring and different than pretty much everything I was listening to at the time but yet it appealed to me. I remember mentioning that it reminded me of early Tom Waits with some of the vocals of a young Lou Reed and I asked who it was. The name stuck with me because it wasn’t a common one. I didn’t learn until much later that he was the progeny of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III and the sibling of Martha (who appears on the album as well). Coincidentally, Rufus Wainwright appeared on some Canadian daytime talk show a few days later, further impressing me with his theatrics and obvious talent at the keys, and I promptly went out to buy the CD.

Gateway tune: April fools


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.