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This Is Hardcore, Pulp

Island Records, March 30, 1998

Track Listing: 1. The Fear, 2. Dishes, 3. Party Hard, 4. Help the Aged, 5. This Is Hardcore, 6. TV Movie, 7. A Little Soul, 8. I’m a Man, 9. Seductive Barry, 10. Sylvia, 11. Glory Days, 12. The Day After the Revolution, 13. Like a Friend (bonus track)

Music fans relentlessly urge exceptional shows, demanding satisfaction while snickering that the bassist looks like he is knocking on heaven’s door. The relationship drives rock stars to their graves. Pros to the end, bands grab the mic and smash a few guitars to please. Outrageous behavior is lapped up and yields what the audience wants—pushed boundaries and songs that laugh death in the face. Electric guitar riffs carry the Grim Reaper away in a mosh pit of glorification. Rock on!

Then, along comes Pulp, upsetting the delicate equilibrium between artist and fan, calling for each to take a look inside. Thematically, Hardcore’s collection of songs states an obvious but unaddressed reality that other music (Pulp’s own included) chooses to scoff: nonstop rock-’n’-roll partying takes a toll and getting old from it kinda sucks. True to form, based on album sales, fans preferred the carefree days of drugs, booze and endless nights of casual sex to the introspection.

Do not be turned off. Face the music, which is better than ever. A changed direction for the band, confronting the ravages of time, is soothingly reaffirming. Rest assured, vices make encore presentations over the thirteen tracks for the diehards.

Taken in context, the collection of tunes has multifold significance, marking a unique time in the band’s history, as a near-to-last swan song for the group. Moreover, the music crosses styles popular to Britpop recordings of the era. The title track is also one of the most mind-blowing orchestrations in pop, but, before jumping there, the stage must be set.

Within the first few lyrics of track numbered one, “The Fear,” Jarvis Cocker (J.C.) croons:

“This is the sound of someone losing the plot—
Making out they’re okay when they’re not
You’re gonna like it, but not a lot”

-fromThe Fear

Cocker eerily proselytizes to the fainthearted the inauspicious playlist ahead, but his devotees are next treated to a playful ditty, “Dishes,” toying with the notion of how Cocker’s initials match the name of another figure—one able to turn water to wine and live through eternity. Key differences between the two men are made clear. Namely, Cocker is a man whose free time is spent at home washing dishes, not preaching the Gospel. He is also a man facing mortality. Rockers, after all, do not live forever.

Pulp is not on a suicide mission tackling serious issues with the album—they astutely reminisce with perspective on the past looking toward the future—so, the third track is a David Bowie inspired upbeat number that gets the audience standing. “Party Hard” assures that the beat goes on but questions to what purpose, infusing the song with heft.

“Why do we have to kill ourselves just to prove we’re alive?”

-fromParty Hard

An answer from a Deadhead might help. Old men, beer bellies, bandannas, cut black T-shirts, balding hair and rock-’n’-roll are apparently intrinsic. Music does not fade, unless recorded to quiet and when fans turn down the volume. Musicians, themselves, are not so lucky with their indefinite fates that equal the ultimate demise of the fan. Cocker understands, and he offers the wake-up call for everyone.

“Help the aged
One time they were just like you
Smoking cigs and sniffing glue”

-fromHelp the Aged

Finally, the lineup’s showstopper arrives. Cocker lays it on the line. This life … a rocker’s and fan’s combined … is hardcore. The instrumentals are elegant, laced with strings, piano and horns. The song is as cinematic and grand as it is subversive and desperate. Sex is portrayed as mechanical and pathetic, amphitheaters away from the commerce of Mick Jagger’s swaggering sixty-year-old plus hips.

“It’s what men in stained raincoats pay for but in here it is pure
This is the end of the line
I’ve seen the storyline played out so many times before
Oh that goes in there
Then that goes in there
Then that goes in there
Then that goes in there
& then it’s over”

-from the song This Is Hardcore

Whether or not the album is downhill from this point is open to debate. “A Little Soul” is a heartfelt gift from a father to a son, an apology of sorts, for setting a negative example. “Seductive Barry” is an ode to Barry White with Cocker taking on velvety undertones, and echoes of Bruce Springsteen shine in “The Day After the Revolution.” Happiness settles in with the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Irony is over
Bye bye
Bye bye”

-fromThe Day After the Revolution

Cocker and the band grow up on This Is Hardcore, but lose none of their vitality. The destiny of part of the fan base, which may have buried the band to protect their own souls, is dubious. For the survivors, after the final song plays, the only appropriate exclamation is, “Bravo!” A respectful cheer upon final exit, after all, should not be too much to expect, especially when so well-earned.

Prayers are sent for a resurrection.