The late nineties were not only a dark time for Britpop and music, but an even darker time for Pulp. The departure of Russell Senior and Jarvis Cocker’s very private breakdown had taken drastic tolls on the future of the band. Between the release of Different Class and This is Hardcore, three years had passed. The passing of Princess Diana had led to a change in public mood, with Robbie Williams storming the charts soon after. Pulp were caught in a pathetic limbo, a genre change and personnel shake-up seemed to be exactly what the band needed.
Tonally, the album is all over the place. Opening with a very personal, almost saddeningly depressing song, The Fearand ending on the longest song Pulp ever wrote, The Day After the Revolution. Sprinkled throughout are rock anthem Party Hard, the particularly memorable Help the Aged and the quietly auteur yet forgettable A Little Soul. By no means are any of the songs on this album bad, but Pulp are always remembered for being suave, enigmatic musicians. Their foray into the world of deeper music wasn’t an expected one, but to me, a very welcome one.
By far the best song of the album is the titular This is Hardcore. Depending on taste, this song will prove rather menacing, or extremely enjoyable. If you fall into the latter category, give the End of the Line remix a listen, followed by the titular song. Alongside this of course is the excellent Help the Aged, the song which drove Senior to leave the band. The song itself is excellent, Senior’s attempts at sabotage not working to his advantage, as the band produced one of their finest sounding singles with this song. A love letter to the latter days of life, gracefully shooting down preconceptions of the elderly, and their love of the party life.
As expected, there are a few weaker songs to the album, mainly Dishes and Glory Days, which sounds like it was ripped from Cocaine Socialism and Tomorrow Never Lies. Excellent songs in their own right, but simply not the blend and quality of other songs provided on the album. Dishes is much slower and macabre in tone, and its placement on the album comes after a song that is also slower and macabre. Seemingly overshadowed, a standalone listen of the song is much better than a track listing.
If anything, this is the closest we get to seeing into the personal life of Jarvis Cocker. The Fear is a song closely related to his battle with substance abuse, however without this context isn’t the greatest song to listen to. Contextualising all of these songs and reflecting them with Cocker’s life during the period is actually a rather difficult sight to behold. One of the first times his lyrics have spoken from a truly emotional side of his heart, he conducts an almost monologue style ramble, with some beautiful lyrics as ever.
No song makes this emotion clearer than TV Movie, which includes lines such as “Without you, my life has become a hangover without end” and “It’s obvious that I miss you so much”. There has to be a much deeper meaning to these lyrics, just as ever with Cocker, nobody has a clear answer other than him, and he refuses to give one.
Pulp went from making pop party anthems that shaped a nation to personalised ballads of the very work that made them famous. Their message by no means changed, simply the way they produced and performed it. Full of awkward sounding notes, odd sounding lyrics and a generally uncomfortable vibe surprisingly make this one of Pulp’s greatest albums, just because of how personal it is.
It may be lacking in heavy hitting songs, Different Class edges This is Hardcore down a peg or two in that regard. But with reference to the singles, lyrics and meaning behind each song, This is Hardcore is stronger due to its abrasive nature and truthful lyrics. Where Different Class is a jolly pop album made for the masses, This is Hardcore is slower, more random and experimental, something Pulp couldn’t afford to do but did anyway.
Upon revisiting the album, it is somewhat apparent that the album carries some dead weight with it. Not in regard to bad songs, as none of the songs on the album are necessarily bad, however its sudden surges in tonal shifts are off putting enough to not give out a full five stars. Pulp never stopped making amazing music, however I must admit, it isn’t as tightly formed as Different Class. Still, it was wild enough to try some amazing new tones that didn’t quite stick.