Pulp - This is Hardcore
"THERE'S SOMETHING TO DO with realising an ambition," said Jarvis Cocker in the January of 1998, "that seems to curdle somebody's spirit in some way." Curdled spirit. It is a more fitting explanation, certainly, than Millennium Madness or the relentless monsoon rains of the new seriousness that Pulp, three years on from 'Common People' at Glastonbury - The Moment Jarvis has referred to as "the pinnacle of my life" - that Pulp should now choose to bring us their 'Holy Bible'.
Hur hur, just kidding (a bit). But certainly proof of the timeless maxim: that which doesn't kill you makes you stranger. 'This Is Hardcore' is a Pulp LP as you know one only in as much as it's a concept LP about life and the weirdness of everything. It is Pulp: The Sequel. It is the panoramic widescreen director's cut with not one parp on the Stylophone cheese-o-meter or the crackling static from an orgy of Crimplene bedwear, or anything like it. It begins with a drug psychosis confessional called 'The Fear' which sounds like a mock-gothic Hammer House Of Horror theme tune and features a new singing voice as deep and dastardly as Harry White off Mark'n'Lard. "This is the sound of someone losing the plot", he avers, gravely, "you're gonna like it but not a lot". A classic Jarvis jest and one of the very few on an album without lip gloss, razzamatazz or any underwear whatsoever and more a soundtrack to a forthcoming series of Tales Of The Unexpected. With rude bits in.
'This Is Hardcore' is the sound of what happened to Jarvis Cocker when he woke up one day and found life inside The Dream was not as he'd imagined for the best part of a lifetime, a bloke who still stayed in and did the dishes (as pictured here in the jinglesome breeze of 'Dishes') at the same time as playing the international playboy who made a right berk of himself frothing in a puddle outside Brown's being stood on by Keith Allen who mistook him for a plank (or something).
'Party Hard' is the playboy's soundtrack, a bizarre, faintly idiotic 'Scary Monsters' homage full of crisp observation such as, "I've seen you havin' it/Havin' it yeah/But now you've just had it", and furthermore, "why do we have to half kill ourselves just to prove we're alive". In this murky context, 'Help The Aged' finally rises out of the bewilderment mire which deemed it a comeback single with all the fanfare effectiveness of a kazoo. But it's 'A Ring A Ring A Rosie' compared to 'This Is Hardcore' itself, possibly the creepiest single released by a commercial 'artiste' in recording history. Built around a sample of the horn loop from the TV soundtrack of 'Bolero On The Moon Rocks' by the Peter Thomas Sound Orchester (so it's Pulp's 'Bitter Sweet Symphony', sort of), 'This Is Hardcore' is an operatic opus of staggeringly bleak refrain; a paean to a pornographic fantasy as a metaphor for fatal fame. It is spiritually curdled alright; unbearably sad and violently sick. "And that goes in there"... mewls Jarvis, "then that goes in there/Then that goes in there/Then that goes in there". Three million ten-year-olds across Western civilisation in a Tower Records booth simultaneously burst into tears. It is awful. And brilliant. Preposterous, eh?
As is the decision to follow such a feat of emotional dramatics with two namby jingle-pop reveries ( 'TV Movie' and 'A Little Soul' ) before 'Mis-Shapes' makes a reappearance as an anti-Bloke anthem called 'I'm A Man' and, quite suddenly, the seven veils of gloom begin twitching on top of the burnt-out, broken man on the floor who simply gets up and sings four of the most inspired songs in Pulp's 15-year history. 'Seductive Barry' sounds a bit like Joy Division; that BIG and bewitching, a sexual fantasy space-pop sequence featuring Jarvis objectifying himself in the eye of the beholder, which then turns into Madonna's 'Justify My Love'.
"When the unbelievable object meets the unstoppable force", he coos. "There's nothing you can do about it, no/I will light your cigarette with a star that has fallen from the sky". Blimey, he's practically floating above the bedspread bathed in blue-and-white light like an apparition of the Virgin Mary (or Frankie Valli in Grease depending on what side of town you grew up on). It could also, of course, describe absolute reality.
The superbly titled 'Sylvia' (hem, hem) sounds, a lot, like the Manic Street Preachers' 'All Surface No Feeling', absolutely ENORMOUS with an idiotic Richey-esque guitar solo and everything (blub), while 'Glory Days' is their greatest urban hymnal since 'Common People' and seems to be, among many other things, about those who live life by the pop star's dictates (and the nutters, perhaps, who thought 'Common People' was all about them). Over an irresistible, rousing jangle the Jarv hollers, "Aw come on... MAKE IT UP YOURSELF! You don't need anybody else..." and you can hear that one, already, beaming back from the future across the hillocks of the summer festivals. Or maybe not. "If you want me", intones the erstwhile voice of a generation, "I'll be sleeping in/Sleeping in throughout these glory days". Magic.
As is 'The Day After The Revolution', the final, mesmerising, ELO-sized soundscape where Jarvis tells us, finally, he's found The Answer: "Why did it seem so difficult to realise the simple truth", he's decided, "the revolution begins and ends with you". Then he stands back, hand at chin, and surveys the preceding chaos with one of those peerless, priceless talky-bit-speeches. "Yeah", he nods, "you made it/Just by the skin of your teeth... The future is over/ Sheffield is over/The fear is over/Guilt is over/The breakdown is over/ Irony is over/Bah-bye". And so the hardcore life is over, breaking up into a fuzzed-up technotronic bedlam befitting a band who could, at this point, be known as The Space-Pop Radiohead except soaring into space on a 15-minute note of religious ecstasy. Of course it's weird, it's Pulp, int'it?
That the pop folk, at some point, go 'mad' is practically a guarantee. Maybe it's nature's way of telling us human beings are not supposed to be world famous millionaires, sexually beloved by a quarter of a billion. It is madness and sometimes it kills people and sometimes it affords them hitherto untapped dimensions of creative guile. 'This Is Hardcore' grows towards the latter and was built from honesty rather than the 'cred'-bothered, knee-jerk 'success? how vile!' petulance of a 'Blur' or a 'Smack My Bitch Up'. Milkmen's lips may furl less of a morning. Sales of comedy spectacles may plummet. We may have seen the last of the onstage bendy-wrist action 'cos you cannot do that stuff to the new single because it is NOT FUNNY but it is Pulp and is therefore pop and therefore less their 'Holy Bible' and, towards the end, more their 'Everything Must Go'.
Never underestimate the spirit of a man who took 12 years to realise The Dream; he knows, perhaps more than anything, about survival...