With less than 2 months to go until the reformed Pulp start hitting the festival circuit, I'm sure there'll be some discussion and exploration of their back catalogue. Attention will no doubt be focused on their breakthrough album 'Different Class', which is understandable - it contains their biggest hit 'Common People' and plenty of other great songs, including the controversial (at the time) 'Sorted for E's and Wizz'. You might remember that the cover for 'Sorted...' featured instructions on how to make a wrap of speed, thereby prompting one of the Daily Mirror's most famous headlines - 'Ban This Sick Stunt'.
But as good as 'Different Class' undoubtedly is, it was never my favourite Pulp album - that honour goes to 'This Is Hardcore'. Released in March 1998, some two and a half years after its predecessor, '...Hardcore' is a very different beast. Darker and more melancholy, its subject matter derives from the experiences the band went through after the success of '...Class'. Jarvis Cocker was (allegedly) now battling cocaine addiction, and suffering from the break-up of his long-term relationship. These factors, together with the long tours the band had undertaken to promote the Mercury-award winning 'Different Class', have clearly influenced the song topics on the album.
Opener 'The Fear' deals with a drug comedown, while 'Dishes' fosters Cocker's sens of inadequacy with one of his most famous lyrics 'I am not Jesus, though we have the same initials'. 'Party Hard' is an alcohol and drug-fuelled binge, while 'Help The Aged' brings into focus the fate that awaits us all, and questions whether we'll be able to continue behaving disgracefully in our dotage. As it says on the back of the cd booklet 'It's OK to grow up - just as long as you don't grow old. Face it...you are young'. For me this is the start of the album's purple patch, a 5 song centrepiece which continues with the title track. A six minute treatise on the degrading mechanics of sex and how pornography can distort the act, 'This Is Hardcore' marks the peak (or should that be trough?) of the album's despair. It's followed by 'TV Movie', in which Jarvis views his life as a poorly made, low budget film made for TV, and then 'A Little Soul', the most emotional song on the album, wherein Cocker warns his estranged son not to turn out like him. Finally in this run of brilliant tracks 'I'm A Man' questions the meaning of life in the face of unreal advertisements.
'Seductive Barry' and 'Sylvia' are 2 of Cocker's people pen portraits and then, for the last 2 tracks, the album takes an interesting (left) turn into politics. 'Glory Days' started life with a different set of lyrics as a song called 'Cocaine Socialism'. This was an attack on the day that Tony Blair invited the likes of Noel Gallagher (who went) and Cocker (who didn't) to Downing Street to celebrate the succes of New Labour and listen to his ultimately empty promises for the future (this song later surfaced as a B-side to 'A Little Soul'). The album version 'Glory Days' covers more generic disappointments and failures, with lines like 'Raise your voice in celebration of the days that we have wasted in the cafe in the station' and 'I could be a genius if I just put my mind to it'. Finally 'The Day After The Revolution' deals with the day after the election victory, as hangovers and reality set in. On the original vinyl of the album that I bought at the time, the song ends with a concentric groove, so that the final chord is permamnently looped and the needle never leave the vinyl - a fitting end for a song that implies that although on the surface things have changed, beneath it everything in constant.
So if you're new to Pulp, by all means check out 'Different Class', but don't stop there. For a true snapshot both of Cocker's life, and the state of the UK at the time, head to 'This Is Hardcore'.