fter 12 years of releasing critically and commercially ignored albums and changing lineups several times, Pulp finally made a breakthrough with “My Legendary Girlfriend,” an NME single of the week, and with 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers, a top ten hit. This collection, Hits, basically picks up where previous collections like Countdown 1992-1983 and Pulpintro left off, and covers the years by which most people know Pulp, starting with first top 20 single “Babies,” and chronologically tracing Pulp’s evolution up through the obligatory new track, “The Last Day of the Miner’s Strike.” And it is perfection, through and through.
When they broke out, Pulp was grouped in with the blossoming britpop scene, but His ‘n’ Hers is unmistakably glam. Front man Jarvis Cocker commanded the attention of his audience more than any performer since Bowie--with his seductive crooning, breathy whispering and terribly witty lyrics about voyeurism, faux glamour and remembering the first time, even his straight male fans acknowledge him as sexy. One of the main advantages of the Hits compilation is that it collects all of the HnH singles (including the U.S.-only “Razzmatazz”), singles that crushed everything else on the album, which is the only one of the four albums featured on Hits that could be considered inessential. “Babies” in particular is a highlight, an irresistible surf rock lick matched with a catchy bass hook and one of Cocker’s best lyrics, about getting caught spying on his girlfriend’s sister having sex (you can almost hear Cocker winking as he says “she opened up her wardrobe/and I had to get it on”).
Next came Different Class, Pulp’s glory shot. Released in 1995 at the height of the Blur vs. Oasis battle, Different Class easily trounced both The Great Escape and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and still serves today as Pulp’s masterpiece. It was also the height of Pulp’s commercial success, with both “Common People” and the double-A “Sorted for E’s and Wizz”/”Mis-Shapes” going to #2 on the British charts. It’s marked on Hits by those two singles, the gorgeous “what if?” ballad “Something Changed,” and the enthralling “Disco 2000.” If Pulp is only remembered by one song in ten years, though, it’ll probably be “Common People.” The single that marked Pulp as superstars, it’s a six-minute rush of a song with several climaxes and a story about a socialite slumming with a working class hero that turns into a rallying cry for the masses against the condescending elite (“because everybody hates a tourist/especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh”).
The bleak, disturbing world of This is Hardcore came as a shock to most people accustomed to the jovial takes on sex and class politics featured on the two previous albums. But, it was somewhat predicted by the anti-clubbing anthem “Sorted for E’s and Wizz,” with lyrics like “in the middle of the night/it feels all right/but then tomorrow morning/ooh, then you come down...”. Even with that, it’s still a bit jarring to hear Jarvis plead for you to “help the aged/’coz one day you’ll be older too” on their lead single off TiH, “Help the Aged.” Predictably, the single (and album) didn’t fare as well with the public as Different Class, but it was still a huge artistic success, showcasing an increasingly world-weary Jarvis exorcising personal demons, mainly about growing older and losing his touch. If “Help the Aged” was jarring, then “This is Hardcore,” the second single off of the album, was downright horrifying. Built around a pounding drum track and a trumpet loop that puts that song in near-trip hop territory musically, “This is Hardcore” is as dark as Pulp gets, an ode to the dehumanizing and terrifying world of pornography. Hardcore is rounded out by “A Little Soul” and the appropriately (albeit deceptively) danceable “Party Hard.”
Hits winds down with the We Love Life singles—pastoral, Scott Walker-produced ballads that are closer to 60’s soul than britpop. The WLL singles are decidedly uncommercial compared to the rest of the collection—the tacky synths are replaced by lilting strings, the subject matter is far more mature, and Cocker’s vocal dramatics are noticeably turned down. The material is no less compelling, however, and rather just demonstrates that Pulp, like all bands of their caliber, never stuck to formula. Closing the album is new single “The Last Day of the Miner’s Strike,” and although it probably is the weakest of the singles, it’s an appropriate “Day After the Revolution”-style ballad to end the disc, and from what it seems right now, Pulp’s career.
If Pulp were to break up now, however, this disc would be all the more appropriate. Every great band needs a one-disc summary, the kind of album you lend to a friend to help get them into the band, and although this collection is incomplete as a summary of Pulp’s whole career (neglecting their pre-breakthrough material), it’s a wonderful introduction to the group. Fans who have the four albums these singles are culled from might not be so compelled to buy the album (especially not for the heavy import prices, as the disc is as of now U.K. only) and the new single isn’t worth buying the disc for, but it’s a great listen for anyone—not one clunker among the sixteen tracks here, not one song less than spectacular.
So if you’re already a fan, try to buy it as cheaply as you can and lose your voice belting out each song at the top of your lungs. Go ahead, you’ve earned it. And if you’re not a fan yet—well, one listen, and you’re gonna be hooked for life. Jarvis and co. have been expecting you.