Track By Track: This is Hardcore

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I’ve already discussed my admiration of Pulp in a previous post, where I made a track by track retrospective on the band’s career; feel free to click here to read it. In it, I called This is Hardcore; Pulp’s 1998 follow up to Different Class, an underrated album. I am finally getting around to reviewing it.

When asked what I believe to be the best Britpop group of the 1990’s, I always say Pulp over Blur or Oasis. I have already discussed my dislike of the latter, and I do like Blur. I like Pulp because I believe they’re the most down to earth and the most real band of the whole Britpop groups. Oasis has always been, and will always be defined as, a band trying to emulate the Beatles sound; which you cannot do by listening to loads of Beatles. Blur’s issue was that they tried to copy the Oasis image, of being working class. Neither band was authentic; in the 90’s at least. As Blur’s members got older, they became more genuine to themselves. Pulp never had that issue.

One thing Pulp had in common with these other groups, however, was drugs and creative difficulties. Jarvis Cocker had a mad cocaine addiction at the time, due to his discomfort with fame. The band took three years to make this album with these issues impacting on the music’s direction. This is Hardcore is a harder album to listen to. It can be enjoyed, but it is one that has to be listened to, rather than be played on a mobile phone as background noise. And here’s why:

Track One- The Fear

Instantly, when you first hear this song, you hear the last second of Bar Italia, from the last track of the previous album. When you listen to that note, you know that This is Hardcore now. This is probably one of the cleverest ways to open your albums, and symbolising the change that you’re about to listen to. The whining synth in the background creates a sinister soundscape that is heard throughout the song, underneath the singing of Cocker, and the brilliant guitars, and female choir backing vocals.

The song itself is about drug withdrawal and the feelings of paranoia associated with it. For me, however, it speaks to the side of me with anxiety problems. The line ‘The Sound of Loneliness turned up to 10’ really encapsulates that feeling for me. This is a great opening song for the album and sets the more melancholic and darker tone that the band is going for on this album. And, personally, it really describes how I felt at my worst.

Track Two- Dishes

Decidedly quieter, but just as melancholic as the previous song. The song seems to tackle the idea of being human and the difficulties of being a human. The want for a miracle to occur, with the singer comparing his life to that of Jesus Christ who died at the age of 33, and the many miracles he is said to have done, seems to suggest to me that the singer wishes to be out of the mundane and unglamorous, and into the fantastic. The idea of doing dishes is such an unglamorous job. Dishes is a great second track, as it is a much more low key affair compared to the tracks it is sandwiched between.

Track Three- Party Hard

An unashamed rocker of a song, with Cocker singing in a Bowie-esque voice in a song that would probably not be out of place on an album like Scary Monsters. I interpret this song as a way in which the singer tries to cope with the fears of his life, and doing so in the wrong way, or at least in an unhealthy way. I particularly love the vocoded refrains of this song, and the similarly distorted guitar is great as well.

Track Four- Help the Aged

One of the singles released for this album, and with some great pathos about the elderly, and a sobering commentary on mortality. You cannot deny age, and the fact that we are all getting older, and despite the things that people do in order to cling on to their youth, be it plastic surgery, eating healthy, keeping fit, and most importantly clinging on to your social status, job, home, etc. will all ‘fall away’ when you’re dead. You only prolong the inevitable. I really like this song, as its message is something that is timeless. The elderly are not a distant and aloof group of people, they all had youths as well, and while we can get divided by the zeitgeist of things, they are where we’re heading.

Track Five- This is Hardcore

The title track of This is Hardcore is…This is Hardcore. a strange blend of big band music, alternative rock, and Britpop. This song is about porn. They did say it was hardcore. Much like the blends of music, with the sample of band music and the rock, there is more about this song than just porn. Porn is used as a metaphor for something else; an inverted take on when people use euphemisms for sex, referring to the music industry being the director of the ‘picture’. The song is actually a metaphor for the way Pulp made Different Class, and how it was such a big success. This song is a metaphor for the idea of being used, and it does it well. What is porn when it isn’t being used by someone for something? Power, pleasure, wealth, etc.

Track Six- TV Movie

In this song, we hear the narrator singing about the drabness of his life again, and comparing it to TV Movies, such as those seen on Channel 5 on mid-afternoon. I interpret this song as being about loss of a lover, or a partner. Cocker had left a relationship at the time of this album’s making, which probably explains this song better. The spacey sounds of this song make it for me.

Track Seven- A Little Soul

Amongst the personal demons that play throughout this album, is this most personal demon, estranged parents. Cocker’s father was absent for most of his life, until he was an adult. This song, written from the perspective of the father, is pleading with his son to not be like him. Given the context of what Cocker was going through, it is quite a sweet song that talks about how Cocker is better than the demons he has. Its a bright, cheery song that is an emotional listen, if in the right mood.

Track Eight- I’m a Man

A solid rocker from start to finish, and a good companion piece to the sentimentality of A Little Soul. It almost comes across as a musical denial from the singer regarding their demons. I see this as a track about denial. ‘I’m a Man’ reads as someone admitting that they think they should handle their demons. That they can take them on, when they, in fact, cannot.

Track Nine- Seductive Barry

Not so much a fan of this song, mostly due to its length, but I do think it is alright. Its length is probably its biggest fault. If it was cut down by about 2 minutes or so, I think it would be a snappier piece. Musically, this has a slower tempo compared to the previous tracks mid-tempo and high tempo. This song is very much a mood track, that you probably have to be in the right mood to enjoy. For me, the mood never quite gets to me.

Track Ten- Sylvia

I actually grew to enjoy this track the more I listened to it. Its a song that has a deeper meaning than what it seems to on the face of it. On the face of it, its about wanting a lost love, but I take a deeper meaning from it. I do think it is about someone’s old flame, but I don’t take it to be a simple post-breakup song, but it is about Sylvia.

‘You look just like Sylvia’ could be about a girl that the narrator is addressing, but it could be referring to Sylvia. She left her home town, after a breakdown in relationship with her father, and her boyfriend, who regrets her leaving, and not being there for her. She’s still the same person, but was changed by experiences.

Track Eleven- Glory Days

Another good one, and another that can be construed in multiple ways. Chiefly, is the present (the 90’s, in Pulp’s then present context) their glory days? Or, was it back in the 80’s, when they were a young and struggling band on the dole? The lyrics seem to suggest the latter. Maybe they also felt that their glory days would be over with this album. Maybe they were looking back on their streak of hits from the the early 90’s to that point. I don’t know, I am tangentially speculating now.

Track Twelve- The Day After the Revolution

This is the painfully ironic album closer to This is Hardcore. And this album goes out swinging with one last rocker. Contextually, this song can be interpreted as Pulp’s response to the 1997 general election, very much a revolution for some people in this country, after 18 years of Conservative rule.

Someone on a forum I was reading said this about the song, and I personally agree with that interpretation: ‘…That everything we’ve believed is wrong. Religion, and our revolutions, they were just putting us on. Whoever ultimately runs the world knows that everything is meaningless, they know all the answers but they get it all wrong just to confuse things…’

This is Hardcore Conclusion

This is Hardcore is a great album, and was a great album when it was released, but I feel that it does get somewhat overlooked, compared to albums like His N’ Hers, and Different Class. For my money, This is Hardcore was a good evolution and maturation of the distinctive sound of pulp, with a bit more of a rock n roll edge.

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About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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