Wednesday, September 23, 2009
SHELF LIFE # 4
(As monomaniacal as I might truly be, maintaining a blog of this high degree of purity and insight (heh-heh) gets wearying. I realize I have enough know-it-all-pallies, informormed buds, and sharp hipster connections, that I oughtta let one or two of you bring it on home occasionally. Here’s the basic premise: 1-3 concise paragraphs about a CD (or as we old schoolers still refer to it-an album) that wasn’t necessarily an all-timer, a Blonde on Blonde or a London Calling. Instead, spotlight a possible peripheral release that stands the test of time and delivers on its small promises, or simply executes succinctly and manages to remain on yer personal playlist--- a sideways record, an overlooked effort, a self-contained minor gem, ya know, a record that’s got Shelf Life. Send me your brilliant overview in simple word form, and I’ll post ‘em up, giving my avid and obsessive readers (heh-heh-heh) an occasional breather from the sound of one man pontificating. The latest guest effort comes from my long ago high school pallie-and then rock and roll guru--Chas Chesler.)
This Is Hardcore-Pulp (Island, 1998)
I’ve always had a thing for groups that were “too British”; quintessential but poor selling late ‘60s Kinks, the original Small Faces, Bonzo Dog Band, etc. When Scotty D requested a contribution, I looked to bands without much US success yet more recent histories. Oasis? Too famous. Blur? Too obvious. Pulp? Ahh, yes. Our topic: 1998’s This Is Hardcore. Reaching #1 in the UK, it didn’t even chart here! Can’t get more “too British” than that.
More than ten years on, This Is Hardcore is still creepy. When Pulp leader Jarvis Cocker whisper/sings during opener “The Fear”, “You’re gonna like it, but not a lot”, the “All About Eve” Bette Davis line “Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" comes to mind.
This is an album of damaged people asking the mirror why they should go on. Cocker spins tales of excess nightlife and promiscuity and the inhabitants’ feelings of emptiness and worthlessness these appetites provoke. They recognize the physical and emotional self-destructiveness of their actions but seem powerless to stop. As the protagonist in “Party Hard” demands “If you didn’t come to party, why did you come?”
Over a pastiche of styles, Chris Thomas’ production is sharp-edged and remote. Elements of glam, pop, arena balladry (think Bob Ezrin-era Alice Cooper), disco and a bit of dissonance can be found.
There is no respite here as each song gets under your skin and the cycle repeats. “This Is Hardcore” unintentionally acts a warning to married with children couples with second thoughts; a much darker vision of The Kinks’ “Two Sisters”, one of whom chooses the home life rather “Than the wayward lass that her sister had been”.
Cocker lends his own name to the opening lyrics on “Dishes”, about a self-loathing kept man: “I am not Jesus, but I have the same initials”. A rare light moment on a highly recommended dark masterpiece.