When it comes to history PULP have it in bucket loads. They might be the most intriguing, fascinating and glamorous band on the planet but sometimes that’s not enough. With PULP you get it all - hope, despair, love and monumental loss, life as it is lived. Out of our ruined existence, PULP emerge triumphal - battered but recognisable, cornered but uncowering, unassailable yet scathed. They’ve got a story to tell and you’ve got time to listen. It hasn’t always been like this.
PULP are Nick Banks (drums), Jarvis Cocker (vocals), Candida Doyle (keyboards), Steve Mackey (bass) and Mark Webber (guitar, keyboards). They formed in Sheffield in 1983 - though with a different line-up - and released their first LP “It” in the same year. After a brief split necessitated by the singular lack of success this toe-in-the-water offering afforded, the band reformed (with new recruit) Russell Senior), releasing two rather more promising singles “Little Girl With Blue Eyes” and “Dogs Are Everywhere” in quick succession. A second LP entitled “Freaks” followed in 1986 before Jarvis (in 1988) went to St Martin’s College in London to study film-making. Here three events seem to have coincided: Jarvis was offered the chance to record another PULP LP, he met a woman who inspired “Common People” - the song that will survive as the benchmark of 1990s popular realism - and he discovered Acid House, the only movement since punk to encapsulate the real feelings and real emotions of the musically disenfranchised. Well, PULP might have been doing this ever since but their real story had just begun.
PULP recorded an album called “Separations” in 1989 though it took three years to be released. The delay meant that Jarvis had actually completed his studies by the time it came out but the single taken from it - “My Legendary Girlfriend” - proved a turning point: it got Single Of The Week in the NME and, perhaps more importantly, it was wild and different enough to be taken pretty seriously. PULP then released “Countdown”, signed a small deal with Sheffield’s Gift label and released “OU” followed by the phenomenal “Babies”, a gorgeous, epic anthem about hiding in wardrobes in order to watch your girlfriend’s sister shagging. PULP were flying by this point and it wasn’t surprising that “Razzamatazz”, their fifth great single on the trot, brought them to the attention of Island Records who promptly signed them up.
In April 1994 PULP released “His ‘N’ Hers”, their first LP for Island and it went straight into the Top 10. A single “Lipgloss” cracked the Top 50 for the first time and a second called “Do You Remember The First Time” (which concerned the subject of losing your virginity) yielded a Channel 4 documentary of the same name. In May 1994 The Sisters’ EP ensured PULP their first ever Top 20 hit and later in the same year as “His ‘N’ Hers” gathered plaudits in its wake, the band narrowly missed-out (by one vote) on winning the Mercury Music Prize. 1994 also saw PULP’s first ever Top Of The Pops appearance as well as Jarvis trashing all-comers in an historic edition of Pop Quiz. In August, something else happened: PULP played the NME stage at the Reading Festival and debuted a new song called “Common People”.
It’s difficult to underestimate the impact this song had on the crowd that day. It was still early days for most PULP converts but we all knew something was up. There were no tapes in existence, just a memory of something that had happened in a field and it wouldn’t go away. By the time the song was released in May 1995 anticipation had reached fever pitch and the single rocketed to the No.2 spot. One month later when the Stone Roses pulled out of their headlining slot at Glastonbury only one band could have stepped in and turned a potentially disastrous experience into one of the most abiding memories of the 1990's. Jarvis might have thought he was dealing with a load of E’d up Mancs but from the opening bars of Razzamatazz it was obvious that he had them in the palm of his hand. Everyone knew the songs, everyone knew the words and everyone knew all at the same time that PULP were so far ahead of the competition they could only have been beamed down from another planet to make your life worth living.
PULP debuted “Sorted For E’s & Wizz” that day and another memory unfolded. The song appeared as a single later that year ( as a double A-side with “Mis-Shapes”) and again reached the No.2 slot. The Daily Mirror were kind enough to feature the “Sorted...” sleeve on its cover under the banner headline “Ban This Sick Stunt” and the attendant fuss surely helped fuel a healthier debate on the comedown from rave culture. PULP were unstoppable by now, anyhow, and their second LP for Island entitled “Different Class” too proved to be ... in a class of its own and it soon spawned two more Top 10 singles with “Disco 2000" and “Something Changed”. Correspondingly, in the following year, PULP were nominated for six NME Brat Awards and four Brit Awards and by the end of it they’d also won an Ivor Novello award and the 1996 Mercury Music Prize. It’s gratifying to note that in the year of the Michael Jackson Incident that we all got so worked up about, PULP were converting all before them.
It’s a beautiful, chequered history isn’t it? ... and it’s not over yet. After the amicable departure of guitarist/violinist Russell Senior, PULP have spent the last year writing and recording a new album that’s about to change your perception of what a pop album is supposed to be. This Is Hardcore is deep and dark and sick and - sorry, that word again - beautiful. If you thought “Help The Aged” was the whole picture then you should think again because “This Is Hardcore” is going to blow your head off. Produced by Chris Thomas (the man responsible for “Different Class”) and featuring twelve songs of colossal distinction, it’s going to make any current comparisons pretty redundant. PULP have always written about what it might feel like to be ordinary and yet, PULP have a distinct edge, a connection to the popular and everyday that makes them uniquely ours, they have become the most extra-ordinary band you could ever have the pleasure of stumbling upon. Inside their songs you bleed and you perish, you smile and survive and there’s no greater vindication of these feelings than “This Is Hardcore”.
The LP opens with “The Fear”, a five-minute blast of bachelor-den-inspired insularity that throws up the fanatical pronouncement “You can’t get anyone to come in the sack” over the top of what-seems-to-be a 1990's post-modern version of the Persuaders Theme. It’s a song about the paralysis of inaction, a song about a song and surely one of the few songs to revel in its own existence. This is pop as meta-fiction, Jarvis reassuring us all that when we can’t even define what it is we’re frightened of “this song will be here”. “Dishes” which follows is even more intriguing: starting and ending with the same line - “I am not Jesus though I have the same initials” - “Dishes” reveals Jarvis at his most vulnerable, at a turning point in his life where he realises that at his age - 33 - Jesus Christ was crucified. He might “like to make this water into wine” but he knows “it’s impossible” and anyway he’s “got these dishes to dry”. You might wonder how someone can casually come up with the line “I’ve got some matches if you ever need a light” and still escape a knighthood but there we are: this is, after all, PULP we’re dealing with and lines like this are de rigeur. Mind you, for resisting the temptation to rhyme “loaves and fishes” with “dishes”, someone somewhere must sit up and take notice.
“This Is Hardcore” continues apace with “Party Hard” which rides in on the back of a Scary-Monsters-like riff and doesn’t necessarily head that comparison off at the pass with a Jarvis vocal that’s been vocoder-ized. A must-be future single and a song to get ready to, this has everything a party song should have going for it - lines like “He just shed his load on your best party frock” and a recognition that people have to half-kill themselves to prove they’re alive. “Help The Aged” (which you know) follows and proves to be a far more cheerful and optimistic on growing old than it ever did as a single: out there in the real world, exposed and vulnerable, it just made everything else seem like vacuous dross. Here it has a home and it can belong. It sets the scene too for the album’s lynchpin and title track “This Is Hardcore”. Featuring a sample of “Bolero On The Moon” by the Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra and a vibe that’s very definitely from the John Barry School Of Hard Knocks, this song is truly a masterpiece. It’s a miniature love story, of course, a tale of a relationship as a porn movie when the curtains are closed and anything is possible and it’s “what men in stained raincoats pay for but in here it is pure”. Dangerously haunting, it’s possibly PULP’s most accomplished song to date - and that’s really saying something. As Jarvis says as the song never-quite breaks down - “What a hell of a show but what I want to know - What exactly do you do for an encore?”. ‘Cos this is Hardcore.
We could go on but the depths of “This Is Hardcore” shall be revealed in time. There are occasions as on “Sylvia” when your emergence in the unfolding melodrama is so total that you forget where you are for a moment and wonder if you can ever get away. On “Seductive Barry”, Jarvis is lighting cigarettes again, this time with “a star that has fallen from the sky” and on “Glory Days” - quite definitely not a Springsteen cover - Jarvis turns his attention on our generation once more, wondering whether we’re all - including him - going to be sleeping in during our so-called “golden age”. The pathos is total on “The Day After The Revolution”, the album’s closer and swansong, where “the meek shall inherit absolutely nothing at all” and “the rave is over, Sheffield is over, men are over, women are over” and finally “irony is over”. PULP, the greatest band of the ‘90's the greatest ironists of their generation and that’s how they sign off. “Bye, bye”.
Aside from “This Is Hardcore”, PULP have recently contributed to two film soundtracks - a song called “We Are The Boyz” for the Tod Haines-directed “Velvet Goldmine” and a track called “Like A Friend” for the forthcoming modern-Dickens adaptation “Great Expectations” which stars Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. The latter will be released as a single in the USA.