Pulp - This Is Hardcore - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pulp - This Is Hardcore

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:1998-03-30
Pulp - This Is Hardcore
Pulp - This Is Hardcore

1995’s Different Class was Pulp’s breakthrough but a tough act to follow. After a three-year wait Pulp finally delivered, This Is Hardcore. Mercifully, frontman, Jarvis Cocker didn’t resort to the cliché of bitching about his newfound fame and celebrity. Instead, we got something far darker and deeper. While some may see Hardcore as a decline from the dizzying heights of Class, to these ears it bookmarks the end of their classic period which began with 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers.

More than anything, Hardcore is about addiction. Addiction in its many forms. Addiction to drugs. Addiction to sex. Addiction to adoration. Addiction to misery. Addiction to revenge. While it deals with more personal and dour subject matter, Hardcore perversely remains as irresistibly accessible as the two pithy albums that preceded it. For all its doomy guitars, confessional self-loathing and paranoia, ‘The Fear’, is still a damn fine Pop song with one hell of a catchy chorus. “This is the sound of someone losing the plot,” Cocker insists but Hardcore is the sound of anything but. ‘The Fear’ is a bold, grandiose start to a dark ride but one that is not devoid of Cocker’s sharp wit. “Now you all know the words to song, it won’t be long before you’re singing along.”

‘The Fear’ is offset by the kitchen sink drama of, ‘Dishes’. Its narrator a mousy wallflower whose sense of self-deprecation is deceptive. “I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials.” Here, no miracles happen and the simple soul we’re greeted with becomes increasingly more sinister as the song progresses. While Cocker is never explicit, I can't shake the nagging feeling the person he’s addressing might just be trussed up in the attic. “Aren’t you happy just to be alive?” He asks. Suddenly, the claims of not being Jesus hint at megalomania that is absolutely bone-chilling.

‘Party Hard’ finds Cocker sparring with drug use, wearing blood-stained kid gloves. Vocally, he's clearly channeling his hero, Scott Walker. Nor is Cocker’s tongue all that firmly in cheek with bon mots like, “I don’t need to hear your stories again, just get on the floor and show me what you’re made of.”  Musically, it bears warped traces of the last days of disco. And then, there’s Cocker’s asides, muttered under the influence of robotic vocal effects.

‘Help The Aged’ deftly mixes satire and genuine compassion. In terms of single cuts, it’s one of Hardcore’s finest offerings. “You can see where you’re heading and it’s such a lonely place oh, in meantime we try to forget nothing lasts forever.” Beneath any claims of altruism for the elderly, lies a jealous, aging lothario bitterly opining, “When did you realize its time to take another lover, baby?” 

As for Hardcore’s title track, it manages to combine Burt Bacharach pastiche and chilling, cinematic strings. “I want to make a movie, let’s star in it together, don’t make a move until I say action.” Suddenly the mad swirl of cocaine and champagne fall like a curtain, revealing a bleak tenement world of isolation and obsession. “What exactly do you do for an encore? Cos’ this hardcore,” Cocker croons sarcastically.

In reply, Cocker strips things down to a battered acoustic guitar for the start of, ‘TV Movie’. “Without you, my life has become a hangover without end,” he confesses, “A TV movie with no story or sex”.  While one would suspect a dreary drama to follow, ‘TV Movie’ is irresistible Pop. In spite of being a rather sordid confessional of self-inflicted heartbreak and loss.

‘A Little Soul’ settles on the therapist’s couch for a session about parental abandonment. Suddenly a narrative begins to reveal itself. If what preceded is the rise and fall of addiction, here are the first steps of recovery. When Cocker finally tracks down the father who left, he's met with, “I got no wisdom that I want to pass on, just don’t hang round here, no, I’m telling you son, you don’t want to know me.” The party is indeed over. Time to bend down and pick up the pieces.

Just when you think Hardcore is going to be a bum trip, ‘I’m A Man’ jogs in to “Wonder what it takes to be a man.” A song that brings XTC to mind at their most infectious. It’s the album’s most buoyant and bittersweet moment.

If there’s one misstep on Hardcore it’s that the eight-plus- minute, ‘Seductive Barry’ overstays its welcome. If it’s a song about over-indulgence, it isn’t shy about imbibing. One of Hardcore’s B-sides (‘Cocaine Socialism’ or ‘Like A Friend’) would have made for a more concise album. It’s the one track I skip over. At the very least, it wastes some time before we’re hit with the album’s soaring, ‘Sylvia’. This is the power Pop anthem you’ve been waiting for. “Her beauty was her only crime,” Cocker laments.

‘Sylvia’ would have made for a magnificent send-off and yet Hardcore has two more parting shots. In ‘Glory Days’, if the present is slightly less than glorious, its at least stable. “If you want me, I’ll be sleeping in throughout these glory days,” Cocker quips. The credits roll, however, with the rousing, ‘The Day After The Revolution’. “No anger, no guilt, no sorrow, it sounds unlikely, I know, but tomorrow you’ll wake up to find your whole life changed, a revolution took place,” Cocker passionately bellows in parting. “The revolution was televised, now it’s over, bye bye.”   

For what Hardcore lacks in plucky singles, it makes up for in substance. I’d be hard pressed to name a record that deals so honestly with the trials and tribulations of addiction and recovery. All wrapped up in the ribbons and bows of whip-smart lyricism and tasty Pop stylings. In many ways, Hardcore is Pulp’s answer to, Diamond Dogs. A grim romp with decadence. Chock full of paranoia, self-loathing, apocalyptic visions and uncertain redemption.

While Hardcore isn’t exactly the last word, it certainly feels that way. Pulp would return with 2001’s We Love Life but it seems more of a coda to the hustle and bustle of Pulp’s glory days. Glory days that come crashing down here. If Different Class was the band on a high, Hardcore is the sound of coming down.

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Great review/ reappraisal! A brilliant album, the title track is an incredible bit of music. Although I think 'We Love Life' is even better on the whole, the band finding comfort and solace after the dark partying vibes of 'This is Hardcore'....

Great review/ reappraisal! A brilliant album, the title track is an incredible bit of music. Although I think 'We Love Life' is even better on the whole, the band finding comfort and solace after the dark partying vibes of 'This is Hardcore'. What a great band.

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