This Is Hardcore


Island, 2006

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


When bands break it big on a smash album (either critically or in sales), most tend to take one of two routes: embrace their good fortunes and attempt even greater epic strides, or defiantly reject the spotlight and retreat inward. Radiohead’s OK Computer, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and Wu-Tang Clan’s Wu-Tang Forever fall into the former category.

Nirvana’s In Utero, Faith No More’s Angel Dust and Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore fall into the latter category. For Pulp, their answer to their defining rock moment (Different Class) was 1998’s This Is Hardcore.

Initially perceived as a commercial and artistic disappointment, This Is Hardcore emerged just as the crest of the ‘90s Brit-pop explosion. While the members of Blur and Oasis were in their early-to-mid ‘20s during this time, frontman Jarvis Cocker was in his mid-30s when his band achieved rock superstar status with “Common People” after more than 15 years of obscurity. Benefiting from experience, Cocker knew that the greater the party, the greater the hangover.

It doesn’t take a rock historian to know that something appeared to be very, very wrong with the band with the first full listen of This Is Hardcore. The “wallowing away in a hotel room” misery is all over the title track. In the liner notes of the deluxe edition of this album, Cocker plainly stated he thought something was amiss during the early recording sessions and decided to hole up in New York City. Soon after, longtime guitarist and violinist Russell Senior left the band. Even though Cocker was on shutdown mode during the early recording sessions, the band remained tight as ever -- weaving elements of Pink Floyd into their sound on This is Hardcore.

Some critics faulted the album for lacking an “anthem” on the scale of “Disco 2000” and “Common People,” but music-wise, “I’m a Man,” “Party Hard” and the “Springsteen-in-a-dance club” quality of “Glory Years” are as instantly memorable as some of Pulp’s finest moments on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 His ‘N Hers and Different Class. Much of the musical “up” moments are supplied by Mark Webber’s squalling guitar work and drummer Nick Banks’ impeccable, propulsive percussion.

Of course, one of the major staples of a Pulp album is Jarvis Cocker’s brutally honest and dead-ass funny lyrics. Cracking you up one moment, depressing the hell out of you the second moment, Cocker’s writing didn’t suffer, despite him battling some major personal demons during the recording. Cocker can take a clichéd breakup song like “TV Movie” and make it sound fresh by frankly comparing his life to a TV movie that’s “too long with no story and no sex.” In “Like A Friend,” a song that was later included in This Is Hardcore after its appearance in the movie “Great Expectations,” Cocker spills out such disses like “You are the party that makes me feel my age / Like a car crash I can see but just can’t avoid.”

Perhaps one of the reasons why This Is Hardcore has received more acclaim now than it did when it was released is that the majority of the critics who initially panned the album are now the same age as Cocker was when he penned the lyrics to the album. Thus, songs about domestic inadequacy (“Dishes”), fatherly inadequacy (“A Little Soul”) and even a non-sarcastic plea to “Help the Aged” are far more easy to relate to for critics who in their mid-30s as opposed to their post-college age when this album initially came out.

Packed with enough excellent material for another album, the bonus disc of This Is Hardcore is far beyond most “bonus” discs from standard remastered albums. On the second disc, there is only one remix and eight previously-unreleased tracks. At their worst, most of these tracks sound like they could have made it onto the album. At their best, these tracks, with a little more time in the mixing room and some expert placement with the songs on This Is Hardcore, could have resulted in one of the best double-CDs ever released by a major rock band (easily blowing away Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness). Plus, most major-league rock bands wouldn’t have the sense of humor to release not one, but two genitalia-obsessed songs: “Can I Have My Balls Back Please” and “My Erection.”

In the liner notes of the deluxe edition, Cocker admitted This Is Hardcore as “prickly,” “difficult” and resonated with “the sound of failure.” Not exactly the review label you’d want to stick on the album, but Cocker proudly concludes the album is “the most successful rendition of the sound of failure ever put to tape. So there.”

Assuming your list of failures in your life is going to at least equal if not surpass your list of successes, the album deserves to be in anyone’s “late night listening selections” collection. Far from a mess, This Is Hardcore is a grand statement that just needed the element of time and distance to be truly appreciated.  [Note: The remastered edition with bonus disc earns an "A" rating.]

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


© 2007 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island, and is used for informational purposes only.