David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 122: Pulp (This Is Hardcore)

August 26, 2020

Nobody does creepy better than Jarvis Cocker and Pulp.

Most of their 1995 CD, Different Class, had already established a pretty high bar. 

"I Spy" put the "awk" in "stalker": "You see I spy for a living and I specialize in revenge/on taking the things I know will cause you pain."

"Pencil Skirt" wasn't much better: "If you look under the bed then I can see my house from here/so just lie against the wall and watch my conscience disappear."

With "Underwear," he adds humiliation to his sociopathy: "If fashion is your trade then when you're naked/I guess you must be unemployed."

The truth of the matter is that the songs were for the most part wrapped in conventional packaging that left you humming along, blocking out the specifics. Even "I Spy" broke away from the at times relentless whispering that categorized Cocker's singing, with sections resembling choruses, and even the never-fails "la la la la la la."  A lot of creepiness hides in full sight in pop music: "Every Breath You Take" and "Under My Thumb," to name two obvious ones.

Perhaps Cocker felt he had to elevate the creepiness to another level with 1998's This Is Hardcore. He filled the stable with the right horses: "Seductive Barry" ("how many others have touched themselves whilst looking at pictures of you?"); "Party Hard" ("This man is dangerous, he just shed his load on your best party frock"); but the pièce de résistance is the title track, "This Is Hardcore," Cocker's treatise on pornography.

Yes, you read that right.  And he's going to get the stench, the clamminess, the ickyness just right. And sometimes the ickyness will be so right, it makes the song memorable for all the best and worst reasons.

The key to it all is a sample, a 1970's orchestral piece entitled "Bolero On The Moon Rocks" by The Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra, discordant trumpets, violins, keyboards, drums, and a hint of vocal muttering with even something that sounds like a dog bark in there. You can hear a bit of it here. I have no idea what its title means, but it does evoke the scene gone wrong in some sci-fi movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Beyond the Bolero, "This Is Hardcore" is pieced together as if by a group of people sitting in a dark theater, each cranking out his or her own rhythm, vaguely aware of what his or her neighbor is doing, engrossed by a common attraction to what's on the screen. Through it all, there's Cocker's voice-over, a kind of trenchcoat-wearing, dark-alley singing. But, let's save that for last. One doesn't want to rush this because "then it's over."

What are all the instrumentalists doing?

Nick Banks seems to be providing a plodding drumbeat, almost as if rhythmically kicking the empty seat in front of him.

Steve Mackey's bass sounds like a thumping sound coming from the theater next door, one which we don't want to investigate.

Candida Doyle's occasional piano riff seems straight from film noir, or a Vegas act, the sound of sporadic dripping of water onto a pipe.

The strings, synthesizer fills, and guitar capture the intense moments like the sirens of police cars descending upon the sleazy adult theater.

It all builds up, explodes, as to be expected, then drops, that "Bolero" sample the constant, the rest of the band keeping up the non-stop underlying unease.

Within all this, Jarvis Cocker provides the narration: "I want it bad/I want it now/Oh can't you see I'm ready now/I've seen all the pictures/I've studied them forever/I want to make a movie/so let's star in it together."

The lyrics are for the most part rambling, without any real structure, no chorus to bring us back to point B. It's just point A to point B to point C ("then that goes in there/then that goes in there/then that goes in there") "and then it's over."

Cocker puts us "in the heart of the storm. It's what men in stained raincoats pay for."  It's the worst blue movie, non-stop emotionless interaction, un-enthusiastic action, transactional nothing. It is hardcore.

Cocker claims the song came from many bored nights sitting in hotel rooms on concert tours, watching the adult movie channels because of nothing better to do, eventually motivating him to write about the spectacle that is pornography. I can almost buy it, but there is still something disconcerting when the reporter has made a career of capturing the very abyss he seems to have collapsed into.

But his name is Cocker and his band's name is Pulp, so maybe it's all just self-fulfilling prophecy.

"This Is Hardcore." Pulp. This Is Hardcore. Island. 1998. Link here.

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Day 123: Ray Davies "A Place In Your Heart."->

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