Playing God
Pulp: This is Hardcore

there are two ways a lot of not necessarily stupid, but certainly blinkered, people look at This Is Hardcore. Either it's a (yawn) comedown album that's down on sex and fame, or it's just a slightly less accomplished collection of pop songs than its predecessor.

The first of these is easy to attack; some of this stuff is joyous, life-affirming music if you can get past the bitter coating. Never has the band's insistence that you not read the lyrics while listening to the recording made more sense; Pulp wrote music as a band, and they certainly wrote some belters for this album, so any suggestion that it's all about Jarvis's post-fame psychosis doesn't stack up. Besides which, His'n'Hers is arguably more clawing and helpless, but since it was cloaked in a veil of cheap keyboards and cheaper sex, people largely didn't notice. As for the second view, there are too many tracks that are basically non-sequiturs if you go in listening with that sort of grand plan in mind—the songs that function as exceptions to this apparent theme almost outnumber the ones that are consistent with it.

It's possible, though, to make a few chops and changes which not only makes it thematically more cohesive, but also make it an even more brilliant pop album at the same time. The major change is that "Sylvia" and "TV Movie" should probably be demoted to B-side status. The former is a fine song, but it's trapped in an awkward run of three fairly upbeat songs at the end, which makes the last half of the album seem weird and unbalanced, and its stadium-rock flourishes are wonderful, but make it sound like it was flown in from another album, if not quite another band. "TV Movie" is cute, especially the whistling, but there are better ways of picking the listener up after the swooning, desolate title track which precedes it on the original.

Your new masterpiece runs as follows:

1. The Professional [This Is Hardcore B-Side]
There's nothing really wrong with "The Fear" as an opener. This would just work better. Filmic piano overlaid by a divine assortment of classic Cocker quips—it's actually funny rather than just being wry—"You don't fit those clothes anymore / Why don't you take them back to the charity store / While you're there you could always hand yourself in / You're into green issues / Start recycling”—any of which could be directed at an object of scorn or at Jarvis himself. Winking, self-referential and the possessor of an atmosphere to die for, a worthy sequel to "I Spy". And it's useful to disprove at least half of the "dark and humourless" nonsense as soon as possible, so that's what we shall do.

2. Dishes
Self-referential songs don't have to be miserable, obviously, and this quietly dignified song—well, as much as songs wherein the narrator compares himself to Jesus can be—is simply very sweet and pretty. No need to move this one.

3. Party Hard
4. Help The Aged
5. This Is Hardcore

These three singles can also stay where they are. The ascent into the sky that is the final chorus of "Help The Aged" just makes the fall into the Hell of "This Is Hardcore" more pointed and compelling. As for "Party Hard", what's the point in waking up and feeling awful if you don't have a good time the night before?

6. I'm A Man
Shuffling this smirking, sarcastic but quite jolly number up the order avoids putting too many "up" songs at the end and completely erases the original version's slight comparative slump in the middle. Having manfully stared down a cinematic sexual encounter, Jarvis shoots fish in a barrel by mocking the myth of manhood. Except this time, you care, because of the great, stammered hook in the chorus. Like "Disco 2000", this also makes for a nice break between the album's two main songs about (gosh!) sex, the preponderence of which was greatly talked up by people who clearly never heard the album more than once.

7. Seductive Barry
It might be set in the bedroom, or, as Cocker wonders, in a dream of one, but Steve Mackey's bass on this is the sound of a lothario on the prowl, seeking his prey as she eludes him in a storm of swirling piano lines and strings.

8. Like A Friend [A Little Soul B-side/US bonus track]
There seems no reason not to give this inspired glam-esque number its moment in the sun, an uncomplicated, uninhibited fun amid a sea of more thoughtful, slow songs. Though this one starts off slow; a calmly strummed acoustic ballad, but metamorphoses into a frantic, frenzied and extremely entertaining disco stomp. On any previous album, it'd rub shoulders with lots of other songs that do the same thing, on this it stands out as a being quite different while still fitting lyrically with the rest.

9. A Little Soul (Alternative Single Mix)
Jumping from a song about making love to one about estranged fathers is the sort of perverse sequencing that is strangely appealing. There's nothing particularly wrong with the album version, really: both versions are wonderful, heart-tugging, thoughtful pop.

10. Glory Days
The "demo" version, "Cocaine Socialism" is worth a listen for its brassier instrumentation—this is a touch flat even if only in contrast. As songs about hopelessness in the face of reflected brilliance—"When you've seen how big the world is how can you make do with this?"—this is quality. It also helps that it's a far more universal lyric than "Cocaine Socialism", which was about Jarvis being approached to endorse the Labor Party. This is the sort of post-fame musing on the mundanity of life that you can a) actually NOT resent with seething passion, and, more importantly, b) dance to.

11. The Fear (The Complete And Utter Breakdown Version) [Party Hard B-side]
Moved right toward the end, this is one last round of pent-up frustration, especially with the extra-long guitar breakdown of this extended version stretching the wonderful histrionics to eight lovely, wallowing minutes. Placed at the front, this casts too long a shadow of gloom over the album, especially the heaving breaths of guitar feedback that close the track like a death sentence. Right near the end, it's a classic darkest-before-dawn proposition.

12. The Day After The Revolution
And here's your sunrise, the band's (at-the-time) most unabashedly forward-looking, uplifting vision. After the frustration of "The Fear" this comes off as blissful, almost post-coital in the massive sense of release—replete with a sparkling chorus made all the more lovely by what's, for all intent and purpose, the last recorded instance of Candida Doyle's sadly-downmixed technicolour keyboards. God would like to raise the levels of those just a touch.

This would have been a fitting close to a career as any: three minutes of Britpop as catchy as you like leading into a long list of things that are "over", dying out as an indulgent fading keyboard drone with a sample from a radio evangelist and a cheeky "Bye-bye" inserted somewhere in the middle. Despite this, it doesn't actually close or resolve anything. There was a revolution, but so what? It left the faithful who bought it waiting for what would come next, finishing the album perfectly while still hinting there was more greatness to come.

By: Edward Oculicz
Published on: 2004-11-23
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