Pulp - This Is Hardcore
Everyone has an album they love which they consider under-rated. If I may tip in my hat, I'll give you Frengers by Mew, Peloton by the Delgados, Beaster by Sugar and every single Pop Will Eat Itself album. And before that last item on the list gets me slung off this website, I would also like the add This Is Hardcore, an album which to my ears sounds better now that at the time of its release. It is a dark, uncompromising album at times, but full of that which makes an album great - some truly magnificent songs.
In the sleeve notes, Cocker speaks candidly of the difficulties they had recording this album - how he completely lost all confidence during a session, fleeing to New York and suffering a breakdown. Upon his return, key band-member Russell Senior announced his departure. Jarvis states that the opening line to The Fear, the first track, well sum up the album: This is the sound of someone losing the plot; making out that they're ok when they're not. You're going to like it - but not a lot". Well, to be fair, I didn't at the time of release think a whole lot of this album. But, in time, I have come to appreciate this album more and more, considering it now possibly the most interesting of their career.
The Fear slowly unwinds, like tentacles drifting towards you, wrapping around you and pulling you in. There is an air of despair to Cocker's voice - the jaded way he announces the chorus as the music surges into life, before dipping back to the creeping melody. The coda to this song is a rush of instrumentation, never pompous and overblown but at the same time full of drama. The softness of Dishes is a welcome relief after the grandness of the opening, before shifting into Party Hard, where Jarvis meets David Bowie circa Jump They Say and REM's Orange Crush. Help The Aged is probably one of the weaker songs, its downfall being how much at home it would feel on A Different Class.
Title track This Is Hardcore though is simply staggering, an enormous calamity of musical themes and ideas which works despite its best effort not to. Dark and downbeat, it is the burning heart of the album, slumbering horns lazily sounding a death march set against the hammering piano sound. Beautifully constructed, it is a huge achievement and a composition which whilst baffling at the time (particularly as a single) has matured much since its release.
For me though, the greatest track on this album, and indeed in my mind of their entire career, is A Little Soul, a hugely undervalued song. It is the perfect mix of heart-breaking music set to an intelligent lyric full of emotion and character. it tells the story of a man, seeing his child, but wanting to deny his fatherhood, imploring them not to make the same mistakes he has made. The music is delicate and light, with a wonderful guitar solo, sounding almost oriental in flavour. It’s just a wonderful song, buried as a single that sounds better and better with each passing year.
Seductive Barry though is Pulp at their most indulgent, a long, rather boring piece of music that is full of atmosphere but lacking in flair. Glory Days is a blast, a stomping, jangling piece, leading into closer The Day After The Revolution. Jarvis finishes the album shrieking into a loudhailer until the final, extended chord plays for the remaining length of the disc, a softly fading postscript that never wants to end.
The second disc of rarities and unreleased tracks is far and away the best of the three re-releases. It begins with Cocaine Socialism, the song that Jarvis claims precipitated his breakdown. Originally the flip-side to A Little Soul, this is the original version and it is a belter, a fantastic song that must have been hard for the band to put aside after Jarvis felt he couldn't face returning to it. The whole second disc is full of songs equal to those found on This Is Hardcore - Its A Dirty Word, Can I Have My Balls Back Please?, and Street Operator in particular being fine songs. Tomorrow Never Dies, the rejected Bond theme, is interesting as its a pretty good song, and because its a rejected Bond theme - it certainly dumps all over Sheryl Crow from a great height, but its hard to imagine it set to prancing ladies. This whole CD is packed with fine songs, and would be a worthy release in its own right.
This is an album that I think deserves re-evaluation, and what better way to do that than by getting this reissued version. Not only do you get a fine album, you also get a second CD of some of the most eclectic and interesting Pulp songs outside of their albums. Whilst challenging at times, This Is Hardcore is a real achievement for the band. Rather than duplicate their successes, they developed an album full of passion, and heart. Recorded under great duress, the time that has passed allows this album to be considered in a fresh light, something I recommend you do.