On the Record: Pulp – This is Hardcore

At the height of Britpop’s reign in the 1990s, Pulp released their fifth album, Different Class, and it finally garnered the group some of them kudos. The band had been making records since 1980s, yet the timing was never right. Propelled by the brilliant singles “Common People” and “Disco 2000,” Pulp became sensations, rivaling Blur and Oasis for the Britpop crown. Their follow-up, This is Hardcore, pushes the band further than Different Class. For the first time Pulp had a large audience to live up to, and for the most part Jarvis Cocker and company deliver an album to thwart expectations, delving into darker territory, matched by producer Chris Thomas’ dense production. Not as shimmering and immediate as its predecessor, Hardcore’s portrait of hedonistic lifestyles is simultaneously thrilling, harrowing, and alluring; themes that all come to a head in the slow-motion, widescreen title track, which deftly straddles the line between James Bond theme and porn groove.

Other standouts include “Sylvia,” “I’m a Man,” and the single “A Little Soul,” all of which exemplify Pulp’s ability to craft incessantly catchy pop songs with a dark, social critique under a sublime, anthemic chorus. Perhaps the only real misstep is the late album track “Glory Days,” which comes the closest to replicating “Common People” and comes across as a contrived and pale copy, thanks largely to Cocker’s disaffected vocals. Furthermore, the album loses steam at the end: “The Day After the Revolution” and “Like a Friend” (initially the b-side to “A Little Soul,” is tacked on to the North American release) are the two weakest tracks of the set. However, for all of the individual highs and lows, the album works best as a whole, moving skillfully from pop singles (“Help the Aged”), to enticing Scott Walker-esque ballads (“Seductive Barry”), and back again. Despite its flaws, This is Hardcore is arguably Pulp’s best and most fully realized album.

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

One Response to On the Record: Pulp – This is Hardcore

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