Monday, 10 November 2008

Pulp - This is Hardcore

AKA: This is really underrated.

Lets go back in time to the fag end of brit pop. This was an era when all the old certainties were gone. The tories had finally been kicked out of office which in itself was pretty much the deathnell for Britpop and the dawning of the infinitely inferior "cool britania". The problem was when the Tories were in, the bright young things had something to kick against. It was in a sense a pop-cultural revolution. Blair & NuLabour weren't stupid and they went about appropriating and neutralising this. Similarly the music industry had caught up with the "indie" scene and went about commodatising it. Thus was born "cool britania".

It's interesting now (10 years on) to look back on this and see how the britpop bands dealt with this. You had the likes of the Verve, who had run their dreary course, giving up altogether. Then you had the likes of Oasis, basically becoming a tribute act to themselves. To be fair to Oasis they still chuck out some good singles and Heathen Chemistry was a blinding album. On the other hand the election of Blair basically had the same effect on them as the destruction of the second Death Star did the rebel alliance. Suddenly they were left with nothing to rebel against. Had they (or indeed anyone else) been more prescient, the britpop scene could've been re-invented as a means of mobilising support against Blair as he grew steadily more insane and murderous. Unfortunately Robbie Williams and Angels happened instead. A fine tune, but the very essence of "cool britania".

Then you had the likes of Supergrass who embrassed Cool Britania because they were finally a "cool band" as opposed to a bunch of talentless, also ran, cliched, fuckwits turning out tediously predictable sub-stones dross.

Then you had the likes of Blur/Albarn and Radiohead who decided to abandon the britpop thing altogether in favour of something dangerously close to progressive rock.

Pulp, possibly more particularly Jarvis Cocker, did something altogether different in commemorating the end of an era at the exact time the era ended. Pulp were of course uniquely placed to do this, having been mistaken as a britpop band, despite the available evidence to the contrary. Different Class is one of those classic cases of a band being known for its most atypical work. Its a good album and one of the best britpop albums. But its probably Pulp's weakest album. Its certainly their most mainstream one.

This is Hardcore was an exercise in deliberately alienating the Johnny come Lately "fans". It was a brave thing for Pulp to do, but its clearly now an album that stands the test of time. Its also the album where they were at their lyrical peak.

The recent re-master/re-issue is a necessary acquisition for the bonus disc. But for the album itself you need the original CD release. The "remaster" is compressed and brickwalled to fuck. This is a real shame because the original CD has some of the best production of the last 10 years and is comparable with anything Radiohead have done. The album has a lush, Floydian sound, but with some bite, the aural equivilent of a good dark chocolate.

The album has a clear set of themes throughout. Specifically alienation, paranoia and dissaffection with modern life together with an examination of the seedier side of modern society and in particular ideas of modern male/FHM style sexuality. This may sound like depressing stuff and in a way it is. But its depressing in the way that the Blues are depressing. An uplifting and cathartic style of depression. With some belting tunes. The best of which for those of a downloading bent are:

1) The Fear.

The track starts of with a wailing siren and proceeds to tell a tale of paranoia and isolation. This was likely autobiographical as Jarvis wasn't in the best way at the time. But he still had a way with words.

2) I'm a Man.

I'm just gonna quote the awesome lyrics here "I start to wonder, what it takes to be a man. Well i've learned to drink and i've learned to smoke and I learned to tell a dirty joke. If that's all there is then there's no point to me".

3 and 4) Glory Days and The Day After the Revolution. A classic double whammy to end the album as Jarvis rails against Blair, NuLabour, the media and so on. Lyrical gems include: "come share this golden age with me, in my single room apartment", "Oh we were brought up on the space race, now they expect us to clean toilets", "We are the children of the new world", "Although nothing looks different a revolution took place".

Again these are tracks that the likes of Oasis could never do. Firstly because they weren't that talented lyrically, but more importantly because they go against the grain of britpop. The Oasis/Blur brand of britpop was very get up and go. It was music that said you can do this and fuck the politicians and the toffs and anyone else who gets in your way. Pulp were always much more savvy. Fundamentally people are limited, for better or worse, by who they are and their life circumstances. A bit of swagger might get you in the NME if your as talented a vocalist as Liam Gallagher, but in real life it will see you on the dole or a punch on the hooter. Similarly the politicians and the toffs are practically an irrelevance because its the corporations who have things tied up. Pulp realised this and as such even Different Class has a knowing and cynical sneer to it. Almost as thought Pulp went to the Britpop scene to see what it was all about and weren't that impressed.

This is Hardcore therefore stands as a rare contemporaneous historical representation of the end of an era. A comment on a band that predated and would ultimately outlast the genre. Pulp would once again confound expectations with We Love Life. But that's for another post.

Edit: Jarvis 1 Jacko 0,



I just can't get into this one - love different class, though. the new macca fireman's great.

Ben Willans said...


You should try it with a decent set of headphones on.