Thursday, June 10, 2021

Second time around: Pulp - Catch us at it, in the front room

In the great catalogue of dodgy Britpop tunes from the mid-1990s, Pulp's two albums - full of killer beats and universal themes - still reign supreme, and are just as vital in this future world as they were way back then.

Different Class and This Is Hardcore are both as alive as ever, confronting the despair behind getting everything you ever wanted, and marvelling at the sheer joy of spending the night with somebody well out of your league, and everything in between.

I always had a massive soft spot for the gruntier guitars and unashamed sentimentality of Elastica and the Manics and Supergrass, and I've recently been playing the big Oasis tunes with alarming regularity, but I could listen to Pulp forever. Anytime, anywhere, with anybody.

It always takes me ages to get behind a new technology. I was still sticking with the video tape collection until the late 2000s, and cassette tapes were still good enough for me in 1996.

But then I was at some party early in the year and it was somewhere on the wrong side of 4am and everyone was shattered and lying around watching music videos on the TV, and they played 'Disco 2000' and everything perked right up again. There was no need to sitting around and feeling miserable, this sharp, lively music was telling us all, just get out there and fucking live it up a bit.

I went out to the local record store the next day and listened to the whole album in the shop, and it sounded so bloody beautiful, I had to buy it on CD. I got a free Pulp tee-shirt with it, but had to go and buy a CD player on hire-purchase to have something to listen to it on.

The CD player spluttered and died years and years ago, but I've still got that disc. And you can bet I've still got that tee-shirt.

Unlike the vast majority of its contemporaries, Different Class isn't tied to a particular time and place, it sounds like it could have recorded yesterday.

It's slick and vibrant and energetic. The band had already put in the hard yards by this stage of their careers and were a total fucking unit, loud and fast and alive. Jarvis Cocker was the archest frontman you could ask for, doing fabulous things with his fingers, and he was backed by a crew that always delivered the lift his lyrics called for - Candida Doyle was an absolute monster on the keyboards.

And the songs finally got the full blasting production they deserve. Common People has far more meat on its bones than the previous album's Do You Remember The First Time, even though they're equally epic on a songwriting level. The whole Different Class album - even the softer tunes - had this new weight to them, and this new substance makes the whole thing truly timeless.

It helped that the whole album was so fucking identifiable, and still feels like it's speaking truths that haven't eroded in time, because we've all been there. The songs were about feeling like a misfit in the nightclub, or being lost at a giant party, or facing up to yet another Monday morning and doing it all over again. They were about this feeling called love, and about just sitting around in your underwear in somebody's else's room.
It's all a bit sordid, and sometimes a bit sad, but always real. I'd never been to fuckin' Sheffield - I'd never even been out of New Zealand yet - but all these feelings about this messed-up world we live in were so real and recognisable. Confusion and elation and everything in between are always universal, we all feel it.

A couple of years later, and it's all gone to shit a bit. Post-Cold War optimism is taking a weird path and souring into pre-millenial paranoia.

This Is Hardcore is a blatant plea for help. It starts with a blaring note that sounds like an emergency siren - the sound of loneliness, turned up to 10 - and doesn't cheer up much from there. The band had the success they'd been chasing for a decade, and it was just as hollow as anything else.

What do you do then?

While there is still room for a party - and still room to party hard - it's a hell of a hangover. We're all on the slow slide into decrepit obsolescence, no matter how many pills we're taking. There are a few glory days to come, but the world is moving on without us, and it's hard to hang on.

Again, we're not all rock stars, but it's music that was still speaking truths to people on the other side of the world. We might not be having an existential crisis every time we do the dishes, but it's still always lurking there in the soap suds.

And we've all had a taste of some kind of success, and had a quiet freak-out that it doesn't feel like we thought it would. That success doesn't always mean fulfillment, because where do you go when you've got everything you ever wanted? And how long will it be until everybody finds out you're a fraud anyway?

Pulp's music can make me feel lots of big, scary thoughts about the world, but they also make me want to rock out, all night long. There isn't a human emotion that you can't find reflected back at you in one of the songs on these two albums.

Who hasn't driven around town with their one mate who was into the same band as you, singing the lyrics to the big songs loudly and often wrongly, but it doesn't matter, because it's just such a fucking banger of a tune?

Who hasn't put on the title track on This Is Hardcore at top volume on the stereo and then pointed the speakers straight into their ears and screamed along? Is there a better way to cry into the void?

Both of these albums are more than 20 years old now, but I've never stopped listening to them. They're my desert island discs, and I still listen to them constantly. While other old favourites from that period come and go, Pulp is eternal.

I never saw them live - and probably never will, not if the whole band isn't there - but that's okay. I don't have to be there in person to connect to this music, I've been connecting to it for two decades now.

Pulp did some great stuff before they made a move with Mis-Shapes, and they did some fantastic work after The Day After the Revolution played out, but these two albums stand ahead and shoulders above anything else they did.

If I wanna dance, or just wallow in the futility of existence, Pulp is there, and always will be.


Originally posted on the Tearoom of Despair on December 21, 2018. I try to listen to as much new music as I possible can, and my favourite tune last year was still a Cocker one. Same as it ever was.

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